Plaintiff can seek damages in abuse case

By Emily Gurnon, Pioneer Press

A man who says he was abused by an Apple Valley priest when he was a boy can add a claim for punitive damages to his lawsuit against the church, a judge has ruled.

The ruling by Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin on Tuesday means that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona, where Father Thomas Adamson worked, could be forced to pay a much larger sum of money if the plaintiff wins the case.

“I believe the day of reckoning is drawing nearer,” said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who represents the 39-year-old Minneapolis man, who sued as “John Doe.”

Church officials “continue to operate in secrecy and they continue to deny that they have the problem,” Anderson said, even as allegations about pedophile priests have made headlines for years. “Maybe this case will help them wake up and do a better job.”

It’s only the third time in Minnesota that a plaintiff has been allowed to pursue punitive damages against the archdiocese, because it “requires a very high showing of what we call the worst and most egregious conduct” on the part of the church corporation, Anderson said.

One of the two other cases also involved Adamson. The archdiocese had to pay $187,000 to a victim molested by Adamson beginning in 1979, when he was a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Columbia Heights.

In the other case, against the so-called polka padre Robert Kapoun, a court threw out the punitive damages verdict, so the church never had to pay it, Anderson said.

Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said Gearin’s ruling was “not unexpected.” Whether the plaintiff will actually win punitive damages at trial is another matter, he said.

Gearin’s ruling involves a 2006 case in which the man claims Adamson molested him when the plaintiff was a teenager in the 1980s. The man said the abuse occurred while he was a member of Risen Savior parish in Apple Valley. The suit awaits trial.

The archdiocese said at the time that Adamson was dismissed in 1984 after cases of abuse of minors came to light.

But Anderson said the church knew for far too long that Adamson was molesting children.

It was “willfully indifferent to the rights and safety of this victim and others,” including more than two dozen he has interviewed, the attorney said. “And he’s never served a day in jail, and that’s because the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona gave him sanctuary and protected him for 2? decades.”

Gearin also denied the church’s motion to have Minnesota’s punitive damages law declared unconstitutional.

Anderson said the Diocese of Winona is still paying Adamson, who now lives in Eau Claire, Wis. A phone number for Adamson could not be located.