Minneapolis, Minn. —
The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out a clergy abuse lawsuit by a man whose case rested on a repressed memory claim, siding with a lower court’s ruling that repressed memory is an unproven theory.
James Keenan sued the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, claiming that as a teenager he was sexually abused four times in 1980 or 1981 by Thomas Adamson, a priest who has since been defrocked.
Keenan brought his claim in 2006, well outside the state’s six-year statute of limitations, but argued that it should be allowed because he repressed memories of the abuse. A district court rejected that claim, but the state Court of Appeals revived it last year.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday sided with the district court, which found that studies claiming to have proven the existence of repressed memory “lacked foundational reliability.”
“This finding is more than adequately supported by the record” of experts who testified at the lower court proceeding, the Supreme Court ruled. The justices noted that other courts have admitted such evidence, but added that many courts have “ruled that evidence of repressed memories is insufficient to (overcome) statutes of limitations.”
Keenan, 45, of Savage, said he was disappointed in the ruling. He and his attorney, Jeffrey Anderson, said their main goal was to force the release of a list of 46 priests who may have committed abuse.
“These are priests that dioceses in both areas have given the label ‘credibly accused,’ and they won’t make that list public,” Keenan said. “My biggest concern now is safety. Take any family bringing their children into a Catholic church diocese, they don’t know if their priests are on that list or not.”
Spokesmen for both the archdiocese and diocese had no immediate comment. They said statements were being prepared.
Anderson, who has made clergy abuse cases a specialty in Minnesota and elsewhere, said the ruling “bodes very poorly for anyone who’s got a repressed memory.” But he said few cases depend on repressed memory, and he has no other pending cases that do.
In a dissent, Justice Paul Anderson wrote that he agreed with the appellate court’s finding that the district court used the wrong standard in excluding some testimony on repressed-memory theory. He also strongly criticized church leaders, saying Adamson’s molestation of several children in parishes where he served in the early 1960s and 1990s was well established.
“It is also beyond dispute that the defendant religious organizations knew that Father Adamson molested children entrusted to their care,” Anderson wrote. Church leaders referred Adamson for treatment in 1974 and 1981, but their “long-term and recurring response was to transfer Father Adamson to a different parish,” he wrote.
Adamson was assigned to Keenan’s parish, Church of the Risen Savior in Burnsville, in February 1981, about a month after being treated in a hospital, Anderson wrote.