Four Edina brothers allegedly abused by priest as children sue archdiocese

Four brothers from Edina who allege that a now-dead Twin Cities priest sexually abused them have filed suit against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The four, identified in the lawsuit as John Does 151 through 154, came from a devout Roman Catholic family and served as altar boys at Our Lady of Grace Church in Edina.

The lawsuit alleges that the Rev. Thomas Stitts touched the boys’ genitals when they were 7 to 14 years old. The abuse took place from about 1967 through 1973, the suit says.

Between 1970 and 1972, church officials had information that Stitts had sexually abused a boy at St. Leo’s church in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul but “took no further steps to investigate the misconduct or prevent further sexual abuse” by Stitts, the suit says.

The church “affirmatively represented to plaintiffs and their family that Fr. Stitts was safe and that he did not have a history of sexually assaulting children” by allowing him to work with young people, the suit says. That
constitutes fraud, the plaintiffs claim.

Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said in a written statement that the plaintiffs never brought their allegations to church officials at the time in question.

“Thus, since the archdiocese was not informed of these alleged abuse instances, the claim of fraud is denied,” McGrath said.

He said the church is “deeply saddened” by reports of clergy abuse and has undertaken major training and prevention efforts in the past decade.

Stitts was employed at Our Lady of Grace from 1965 to 1966, but he ingratiated himself with the boys’ family and invited them to sleepovers at his subsequent parishes, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Patrick Noaker.

Stitts later worked at Guardian Angels Church in Hastings, now known as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, and at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul, St. Leo’s, St. George’s in Long Lake and St. John the Baptist in New Brighton, where he died of cancer in 1985 at age 50.

The current suit is the fifth brought against the archdiocese involving Stitts. The other four suits represent nine additional alleged victims, filed in 1995 and in August.

Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522.