Minnesota churches are sued under new sex abuse law

Startribune: A 51-year-old Twin Cities man sued Wednesday alleging sexual abuse by a Catholic priest in the 1970s, the first such lawsuit since the Child Victims Act was signed into law last week by Gov. Mark Dayton.

The act strips away the statute of limitations that previously gave child sex-abuse victims until the age of 24 to sue. Exactly what impact it will have is unclear, but St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the man, said more litigation is inevitable.

“He was suffering in the shadows,” Anderson said of his client, who is remaining anonymous. “There are going to be many more [suits] to come, as they should. Now is the time for reckoning.”

Anderson’s client, Doe 1, is suing former priest Thomas Adamson, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona in Ramsey County District Court. Anderson is also asking the archdiocese and diocese to publicly release the names of 46 priests who have “credible allegations of sexual abuse.”

The suit claims that church leaders knew that Adamson sexually abused boys starting in the 1960s while he worked in southern Minnesota. He was moved often, and ended up at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in St. Paul Park from 1976 to 1979, where he sexually abused Doe 1 from 1976 to 1977, the suit claims. Adamson “groomed” the boy and his parents, Anderson said, and would sexually abuse him after taking him to athletic events or playing basketball with him.

Anderson sued in 2006 on behalf of Jim Keenan of Savage, who alleged that Adamson molested him in the 1980s; he said the statute of limitations didn’t apply because he repressed his memories. The Minnesota Supreme Court dismissed Keenan’s suit, writing that the accuracy of recovered memories “has not been scientifically established.”

At that time the list of accused priests was divulged to Anderson, but ordered sealed by a judge.

‘They have an avenue’

On Wednesday, Keenan, 45, was optimistic about the new law. “It gives an opportunity for guys my age … to feel like they do have an avenue,” he said. “I know my case is part of the process of making this happen.”

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, authored the bill, which sets new parameters for sex-abuse cases. Victims over age 24 have three years to sue for past abuse. Anyone under 18 has an unlimited window of time to file.

“The prior statute of limitations was unfairly narrow, given the uniqueness of the kind of injury that’s involved here,” Latz said. “These are folks who for one reason or another either had no specific memory of the abuse, or they repressed it for psychological reasons to protect themselves.”

The Minnesota Religious Council, the lobbying body for Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and United Methodist churches, opposed the bill. Spokesman Brian McClung declined to comment Wednesday, deferring to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Church’s response

The archdiocese and diocese issued similar written statements Wednesday.

“Few, if any, other organizations have instituted such rigorous measures to protect young people,” the archdiocese said. “We believe that the abuse of young people is always a tragedy, and a social problem that should be confronted by all sectors of society.”

Joel Hennessy, spokesman for the Diocese of Winona, said it does not oppose the new law.

“Obviously, it was passed by a legislature, and we have no reason to be opposed to it,” he said. “Justice is something that everyone deserves.”

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib