Robert J. Carlson is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RNS image by Jerry Naunheim Jr., courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning

St. Louis Archbishop Carlson said he's not sure he knew sexual abuse was a crime

(RNS) Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday (June 9).

Robert J. Carlson is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RNS image by Jerry Naunheim Jr., courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning

Robert J. Carlson is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. RNS image by Jerry Naunheim Jr., courtesy of Archdiocese of St. Louis Office of Communications and Planning

During the deposition taken last month, attorney Jeff Anderson asked Carlson whether he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child.

“I'm not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” Carlson replied. “I understand today it's a crime.”

Anderson went on to ask Carlson whether he knew in 1984, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a child.

“I'm not sure if I did or didn't,” Carlson said.

Yet according to documents released Monday (June 9) by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.

In a 1984 document, for example, Carlson wrote to the then-archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis -- John R. Roach -- about one victim of sexual abuse and mentioned that the statute of limitations for filing a claim would not expire for more than two years. He also wrote that the parents of the victim were considering reporting the incident to the police.

In a statement, Gabe Jones, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said “while not being able to recall his knowledge of the law exactly as it was many decades ago, the archbishop did make clear that he knows child sex abuse is a crime today.”

“The question does not address the archbishop’s moral stance on the sin of pedophilia, which has been that it is a most egregious offense,” Jones said.

Anderson took Carlson's deposition as part of a sexual abuse lawsuit in Minnesota involving the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, Minn.

The plaintiff in the case, only identified as “Doe 1,” claims to have been abused in the 1970s by the Rev. Thomas Adamson at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park, Minn.

Later in the deposition, when asked about an incident of alleged sexual abuse of a minor by another priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Rev. Jerome Kern, Anderson asks Carlson:

“But you knew a priest touching the genitals of a kid to be a crime, did you not?” Anderson was referring to what a 1987 church memo said about the alleged incident of abuse.

“Yes,” Carlson replied.

Carlson went on to admit that he never personally reported any incidents of sexual abuse to the police, though he said he encouraged parents to do so at least once.

Carlson also said that even in 1996 he did not know that pedophilia was a disorder that couldn’t be cured.

“I did not know that, but as a pastor, I was becoming increasingly concerned,” Carlson said.

With regard to the history of sexual abuse in the church, Carlson seemed to suggest he did the best he could at the time.

“I think in everything we do, once we've experienced it, we reflect on our actions and we ask what we can do better,” Carlson said. “I think we did a pretty good job.”

“Obviously, based on some 25 years later, I would do it differently.”

Anderson then asked, “Don't you think you should have done it differently then?”

“I did what I did,” Carlson replied.

“I think counselors made mistakes. I think people in general made mistakes. I think the archdiocese made mistakes,” Carlson said. “I think if you go back in history, I think the whole culture did not know what they were dealing with. I think therapists didn't. I don't think we fully understood.”

Over and over, throughout the deposition, Carlson said he could not remember answers to questions posed by Anderson -- for a total of 193 times.

Anderson asked Carlson if there was any physical condition or illness that was impeding his memory.

“I can't make either a psychological or a physical diagnosis, other than to say I have had seven cancer surgeries. Each time I received some kind of chemical to put me out for that. If that's impeded my memory or not, I have no idea,” Carlson answered. “My concern is that what I say to you would be accurate.”

Anderson has also taken Carlson's deposition for a priest sexual abuse case scheduled for trial July 7 in St. Louis. That deposition is under seal.

According to Anderson, Carlson was involved in handling sexual abuse cases in Minnesota for 15 years.

Lilly Fowler is the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter.


  1. Thanks for providing a picture of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson
    in his full pedophile regalia.

    Folks, take a look at what a pedophile looks like.
    See the cross on a chain? See the vestments? See the priestly collar?

    Cement that picture in your head.
    LOOK at him.

    Understand that this fancy Catholic uniform is untouchable by the law.
    Those who wear these vestments can commit any crime. They can claim to “NOT KNOW” that sex with children is wrong.

    They CLAIM TO BE ABOVE THE LAW because they are not OF THE LAW
    which the rest of us must follow.

    Religion continues to poison our culture. We are all victims of what these perverted individuals do not only to our children but to our LAWS.

  2. “Carlson goes on to admit that he never personally reported any incidents of sexual abuse to the police, though he says he encouraged parents to do so at least once.”

    It is a shame there is no Hell for this man to go to. A child was molested – he knew about it and he passed the buck to a terrified parent instead of calling on a policeman and reporting a rape of a child.

    Don’t tell me I can’t have decency and morality without Church!
    Never question where Atheists get their morals
    if you can’t first figure out that there is no morality in this charade that is religion.

  3. ” ‘I did what I did,’ Carlson replied.”

    The arrogance continues to be breathtaking. Is it an unavoidable side effect of believing that you have a personal relationship with a deity who supernaturally forgives your every sin?

  4. Archbishop Carlson is a liar! Plain and simple, and he ought to go to confession because his lying efforts to deceive everyone in his diocese, throughout his church, and throughout this country is as heinous a sinful deceit as obstructing justice by hiding priests against the crimes of sexual abuse of young people.

    Because our justice systems, for some reason, have been so lax in prosecuting the pedophile priests and bishops and the obstructing bishops and their staffs, the bishops are daring to get bolder and bolder. Like Carlson, who is now feigning ignorance about blatant crimes, other bishops have been daring all along to be immune, downright untouchable, for crimes that anyone else would have been slammed in prison for. And we have allowed the pedophiles and the obstructing bishops get away with all those crimes.

    Is it any wonder that Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, MO, is the only member of the U.S. hierarchy who has been prosecuted. Our government, our justice systems, are afraid of the Catholic Church! It is long past the time that we end the full diplomatic relations President Reagan arranged with the Vatican. It is even time to question Franklin Roosevelt’s arrangement of personal representative to the Vatican.

    The Vatican is the headquarters of the Catholic Church, it is not a “state” by any standard diplomatic definition. The Catholic bishops have dared to hide behind what they consider is diplomatic immunity of secular governments. And we have grossly, wrongly allowed them to get away with that deceit.

    The people in the pews to whom all abused young people belonged continue to sit idly by and not demand government reaction to this outrage. The hierarchy, either with hush money or when court hearings have resulted in decrees of awards to the victims of sexual abuse, use the money of the people in the pews to pay off the victims or pay for the crimes of the clergy. And Archbishop Carlson doesn’t understand that simple fact. Again, Carlson is a blatant liar!

    Archbishop Carlson ought to ask Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a guy who thinks he’s a very street-savvy politician, now archbishop of New York, about the way he transferred Milwaukee diocesan funds to cemetery endowments to reduce the diocesan treasury so he could claim the diocese was on the verge of bankruptcy and could not pay court-ordered awards. That’s honesty! It’s as big a sin and as bad a crime as the obstruction of justice that Archbishop Carlson is pretending.

    As for the honor of diplomatic relations, Pope Benedict rewarded Archbishop Dolan for his deceitful sins and crimes in Milwaukee by giving him the Archdiocese of New York that guaranteed him a red hat! Thankfully, criminal Dolan appears not to have the favor of Pope Francis that he had with Benedict.

    If Archbishop Carlson of St. Louis doesn’t understand our legal system better than he pretends, then he certainly could not understand his church’s canon law. And if Carlson doesn’t understand anything as simple as the sin and crime of sex abuse of young people by adults, especially by clergy, after all his years sitting in a confessional, then he shouldn’t even be a priest!

  5. A vital part of a “true confession” is a firm resolve to sin no more–at least not the sins one has confessed. And what about reparations?

  6. You know, the late Auxiliary Bishop A. James Quinn of the Diocese of Cleveland was entrusted at the time of the big expose of the pedophilia scandal to be the episcopal representative of the pope’s apostolic nuncio, ambassador, in Washington to a group of priests and reporters who were unearthing the early sex crimes of the clergy.

    Bishop Quinn deceived all those men in the group organized by the apostolic nuncio by appearing to be on their side. All the while, he was working for the U.S. bishops in their early deceit of obstructing justice relating to pedophile crimes.

    Quinn was also president of the Midwest group of canon lawyers at the time and in his executive speech at a meeting directed them to transfer all files of priests they suspected might be sought by civil authorities to the nunciature of the pope’s “ambassador” in Washington. He presumed in his advice to the diocesan canon lawyers he was advising that the files would then be protected against any civil discovery by diplomatic immunity.

    In short, Quinn was an even bigger liar than Archbishop Carlson. He deceived the clergy and other men he pretended to work with. He was as guilty of the criminal obstruction of justice as any member of the hierarchy. Yet, even after he was exposed, Quinn was never challenged, much less prosecuted.

    Quinn became rather quiet after his exposure. He worked out his time out of the limelight as auxiliary bishop of Cleveland and retired at 75 when bishops are required to turn in their resignations to the pope. Quinn lived on in a parish rectory in a swanky parish in a western suburb of Cleveland. He died last October at that rectory.

    Very strangely, the cause of his death in every death notice and every obituary was given as “probable natural causes.” It is even more strange that the actual, exact cause of death was not reported during the full week before Quinn’s burial. Perhaps a coroner’s autopsy was done. If so, that was not reported. Death certificates are public documents, but those depend on the honesty of the certifying doctor in the declaration of the cause of death. If bishops can be dishonest, can we trust doctors?

    Perhaps Quinn could not live peacefully with the deceit he played as a “leader” for the hierarchy and the church in the supposed investigation at early stages of the clerical sex scandal. The bishops, including Quinn, definitely proved they considered the pretense of chastity of their priests and other bishops more important than the damage done to young people by unchaste clerics who sexually abused young people.

  7. I do not understand how this man became a priest without knowing it is both a civil crime and a sin before God to have sex with a child! Shame on him and shame on the clerical culture which has bred such denial! I cannot think of this man as a man of God and I absolutely refuse to accept his role as a priest of God! His words betray both The Lord and the people of God! Indeed, the only words of scripture which come to mind as I reflect on these words are”must you betray me with a kiss?”

  8. The Roman Catholic Church is an unending supply of bad news.

  9. @Mike,

    Anything that starts with a crucifixion can’t go well.

  10. Words cannot express my utter shock and horror (once again) at what the Catholic Church is capable of. I know. I’ve attended and sent my own children to St. Louis Catholic grade schools. I was under the delusion that the education was top notch, not any more. I was under the delusion the parents were of similar like mindedness when it came to our values, not any more. They all cover up for each other and continued to molest others in MANY DIFFERENT WAYS! When will “the church” WAKE UP! It’s over for them…it all over now!!!

  11. Re: “Yet according to documents released Monday (June 9) by the law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates in St. Paul, Carlson showed clear knowledge that sexual abuse was a crime when discussing incidents with church officials during his time in Minnesota.”

    If this is true, then Carlson’s “admission” during the deposition that he hadn’t been aware that child abuse was a crime, is disingenuous. If so, what’s the point of it? What kind of legalistic posturing is that? What would he or the Church get out of his claiming to have been ignorant of something in the past, that he obviously had actually been clear about?

    Which Carlson is the “real” Carlson? The one who knew child abuse was illegal, or the one who says he hadn’t? It’s reached the point where no one can believe a word that comes out of a Catholic hierarch’s mouth any more.

  12. This guy sounds a little like now retired bishop Peter Connors, when the call for a parliamentry inquiry into sex-abuse was called for in Victoria claiming “it wasn’t needed and would achieve little; while conceding the abuse of children was wrong, it wasn’t always clear what was appropiate and inappropiate behaviour”.
    Well it’s been pretty well made clear now with more than one inquiry and a royal commission in progress….

  13. Any claim by any clergy or anyone else that they do not know sex with children is “wrong,” not just “sinful,” but downright criminal is a plain liar!

    The only reason Catholic hierarchs or anyone else who molests young people can be considered to be “not of the LAW” is because our justice systems have been so lax, especially in the case of Catholic bishops, in prosecuting them for their crimes of obstructing justice in addition to the sex crimes against kids by clergy. They have been “Untouchables” from a headquarters in Rome, Italy!

  14. I’m a Catholic in good standing. I go to mass every Sunday and do volunteer work for the church. This disgusts me. I’ve always been suspicious of the church hierarchy. Their ambition to get ahead is in direct conflict with their vows. And their willingness to sacrifice the weakest to protect their status shakes my confidence in the church’s authority.

  15. Irrational faith must be eradicated, period.

  16. This guy is worse than the scum if the earth. Where is the Pope mot hanging this jerk from the rafters ?

  17. I think a number of persons are confusing the archbishop’s statement, and the way this is being reported isn’t helping. What he said is reported in the article and the deposition: “I am not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not.” The way this is being twisted around in the media, and in this post, is that the archbishop said, “I didn’t know whether sexual abuse of children is wrong.” Whereas he clearly stated the opposite, that he believes sexual abuse is wrong. I am also certain that if asked the question whether he believed the sexual abuse of children in 1984 was wrong, he would have answered the same. We may believe something to be wrong, but not be aware that it is a crime. For better or for worse, I was unaware until a few years ago that “marital rape” was a crime. To be honest, I didn’t know that such a term existed. Do I think it is wrong? Certainly. Did I know it was a crime in 1984. I don’t think I did. I don’t think I had really thought on it. And in any case, the archbishop is not saying that he “didn’t know it was a crime or not”, he is specifically saying that he is “not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not.” He simply can’t remember what his awareness of the law was at the time.
    One may think that the archbishop is playing games with words here, but in my mind he is justified in being careful with what he says. Mr. Anderson is, in my opinion, not terribly interested in the moral outlook of the archbishop. He is probably not even interested in the truth. He is interested in getting a conviction. This is why this was released to the press in the first place. The cardinal is right to be aware of that. Mr. Anderson will try to trick the archbishop into saying something incriminating. The archbishop should continue to be honest, but also to be careful. And he is fully justified in doing so.

  18. I have asked thr Bishop many times to come clean with us Parishioners. He provided a letter last sunday which skirted the issue. He said one thing in Minn under oath and said another by this letter not under oath that ws completely different. ??? It’s time to step down…Your lost alot of us with your continued
    misleading statements. You are Protecting Pedophile Priest in our Archdioceses you are probably using our $$$ to provide lawyers to protect these individuals along with your self. If you want to do somthing great Protect our BORN Children and Young Individuals from these monsters like Pope Francis indicated. Also Return St. Stanislous Church to our fold and remove the excommunication placed on all attending parishioners.

Leave a Comment