Twin Cities archdiocese faces new sex abuse suit
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A woman who alleges a priest molested her in the mid-1980s when she was a young girl sued him and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Tuesday, saying church leaders including then-Archbishop John Roach knew he was dangerous because he had previously confessed to abusing another child.
Her attorneys also released documents that they say show the Rev. Robert Carlson, now the archbishop of St. Louis, was among top officials who knew of the case.
The lawsuit alleges the archdiocese was negligent when it placed the Rev. Robert Thurner at St. Joseph’s Parish in West St. Paul because he already had admitted that he had sexually abused a 16-year-old boy while serving at his previous church, St. John the Evangelist in Hopkins. He made those admissions to Roach, Carlson and other local archdiocese officials, the lawsuit said.
Attorney Jeff Anderson said the woman, identified in the lawsuit only as Doe 23, was 7 or 8 years old when she was abused in 1984 or 1985 while attending St. Joseph’s school.
Doe 23 decided to come forward amid the wave of fresh public criticism fueled by recent news reports of how current archdiocese leaders have handled other clerical sexual misconduct allegations, Anderson said. She had been unable to sue earlier until the Legislature this year opened a three-year window in the statute of limitations for lawsuits by victims of childhood sexual abuse, he said.
Thurner does not have a listed phone number. The archdiocese had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, but spokesman Jim Accurso said in an email that he believes Thurner is “dealing with some serious and advanced elderly issues.”
Officials from the St. Louis archdiocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Thurner served at several Twin Cities churches from 1951 until he retired in 1991 after he was named in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse. Anderson released church documents, which were turned over in earlier lawsuits, showing that Thurner met in November 1982 with Roach, Carlson other senior officials and admitted having sex with the 16-year-old boy. Thurner resigned as pastor of St. John’s and Roach appointed him associate pastor at St. Joseph’s in early 1983, the documents show.
Carlson was a top official in the archdiocese before he was promoted to auxiliary bishop in 1984. He became archbishop of St. Louis in 2009. Attorney Mike Finnegan, who works with Anderson, said Carlson was a central figure in handling several local clergy sex abuse cases in the 1980s.
No criminal charges were ever filed against Thurner, Anderson said. The lawsuit filed in Ramsey County seeks unspecified damages over $50,000 and an order for the archdiocese to release the names of all its priests who’ve been credibly accused of molesting children.
The current archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, John Nienstedt, is under fire amid fresh allegations from a former canon lawyer for the archdiocese that he and other leading church officials mishandled other cases of sexual misconduct by priests. There have been public calls for his resignation and his top deputy has stepped down.
In response, Nienstedt has ordered a review of all clergy files by an outside firm. He has also appointed a task force to address issues of clergy sexual abuse within the archdiocese. While the archdiocese characterizes the task force as independent, Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday published a letter from the leader of the task force to other priests indicating that members will have only limited access to church files.