John Doe 30 grew up in rural Minnesota the youngest of seven. He loved animals. He loved the Catholic Church.
But he didn’t fit in, his attorney Jeff Anderson said Wednesday, and he paid the price.
His brothers and classmates called him derogatory names because they thought he was effeminate.
The boy sought refuge at St. Thomas More parish in Lake Lillian, Minn. There, he met the Rev. James Vincent Fitzgerald, who took the boy, then 15, on a trip across the state in 1978 and sexually assaulted him while working for the Diocese of Duluth, Anderson told jurors.
“The evidence will show that [Doe 30] has lost his ability to trust …,” Anderson said in the opening statements of his civil case against the diocese, the first under the Minnesota Child Victims Act to go to trial. The 2013 law has allowed older claims of child sex abuse previously barred by statutes of limitations to have their day in court.
Doe 30, now 52, is suing the diocese in Ramsey County District Court, alleging that it failed to protect him, that it failed to supervise Fitzgerald and that it should have known the priest was dangerous.
Anderson urged jurors to find in Doe 30’s favor, and then award him $9 million for past and future lost wages and opportunities, and for the harm he has suffered.
(Doe 30 attempted suicide twice in the two years following the abuse he suffered over a two-week period.)
The diocese is not challenging the claims of sexual abuse. Diocese attorney Susan Gaertner told jurors that Fitzgerald was an employee of a religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, so the diocese is not responsible for his actions.
“Order priests are different,” Gaertner said, adding that the Oblates had a 1,000-page personnel file on Fitzgerald and his issues with young boys.
“No one told Duluth even a scrap of this information,” she said. “[The Oblates] keep the file. They are responsible.”
Anderson’s witness, the Rev. Tom Doyle, a former canon lawyer at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., testified that diocese bishops are responsible for approving the appointment of order priests to parishes.
Doyle also testified that bishops are responsible for vetting order priests and checking on their performance.
“The bishop is the shepherd of each and every parish,” said Doyle, who has served as an order priest in parishes.
Testimony is set to resume on Thursday.