Catholic clergy sex abuse victims are protesting a move by the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to try to force an alleged victim to pay the archdiocese nearly $64,000 in legal costs -- the largest amount sought by the archdiocese to date.
The case involves an unnamed Twin Cities man who alleges he was sexually abused by former priest Thomas Adamson between 1980 and 1982, while Adamson was serving at Church of the Risen Savior in Burnsville. The lawsuit filed against both the archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona charges that church officials knew of abuse complaints but did nothing to prevent further abuse.
But Ramsey District Judge Gregg Johnson dismissed the case in October, saying the alleged abuse happened too long ago, according to the statute of limitations. The alleged victim is now appealing that decision.
Earlier this week, archdiocese officials asked Johnson to make the alleged victim cover its legal costs, much of which went to pay experts testifying in the case, according to court documents. The case was initially filed in 2006.
Holding signs and childhood photos at a sidewalk news conference in front of the archdiocese in St. Paul on Wednesday, members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) called the archdiocese move a "mean-spirited" tactic designed to intimidate other victims because of the amount the archdiocese is seeking.
"We in SNAP believe it's immoral for a bishop to exploit legal technicalities and hide behind an archaic and predator-friendly statute of limitations," said David Clohessy, director of SNAP, referring to Archbishop John Nienstedt. "A profit-making secular businessman might do this. But it's just wrong for a professed spiritual figure to do so."
The $64,000 being sought by the archdiocese from an alleged abuse victim to cover legal costs is the largest such amount to date, said archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath. He said it's not uncommon for the archdiocese to seek these types of fees in such cases.
"In this instance, the church is simply seeking to ask the court to allow it be reimbursed for any costs or disbursements which may be allowed by law," the archdiocese said in a released statement. The church "has responded that it does not have sufficient information to admit or deny that the claimant was abused by Thomas Adamson. Nor is there any attempt to keep facts regarding Adamson from becoming public. Those facts have been well-known and publicly reported for nearly 25 years. We all remain saddened by the abusive conduct of Adamson."
'Adding to the injury'
Nick Cafardi is a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and author of the 2009 book "Before Dallas: The U.S. Bishops' Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse of Children." He said he's not aware of other clergy sex abuse cases in the United States where dioceses, winning on the grounds of the statute of limitations, have then sought payment of legal costs of this high amount from an alleged victim.
If the archdiocese "won the case on grounds of the statute, it seems to me they're adding to the harm that did occur by going after the plaintiff," Cafardi said. "We [the church] do have moral obligations apart from the legal obligations. It seems to me if you win a case on technical grounds ... you are adding to the injury by going after the victim. And to what purpose?"
The alleged victim's attorney, Michael Finnegan, with Jeff Anderson and Associates, a St. Paul law firm specializing in clergy sex abuse cases, said the firm has represented 20 people who claim Adamson abused them when they were children. The alleged abuse happened at church parishes in both the Winona diocese and Twin cities archdiocese. Many of the cases have already been settled out of court.
In 1990, a jury awarded one of Adamson's victims $3.5 million, which was later reduced to $1 million, Finnegan said. Defendants included the archdiocese and the Winona Diocese.
Adamson, 77, was suspended from the archdiocese in the mid-1980s and has lived most recently in Eau Claire, Wis., and was working at a nursing home, Finnegan said.
Rose French • 612-673-4352