St. Louis Archbishop Carlson’s Record on Sex Abuse

Robert Carlson’s systematic rise in the power structure of the Catholic Church is inextricably linked to the sexual abuse crisis in the United States. As a priest of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Carlson served his Archbishop faithfully and obediently-at least in terms of how he carried out his assignments.
When Carlson was a top aide to then Archbishop John Roach, he was in charge of dealing with priests who’d been accused of the sexual abuse of minors. One case in particular stands out. The Rev. Thomas Adamson had been accused of grabbing a young boy’s genitals in a whirlpool. When the complaint reached Carlson, Carlson confronted Adamson who admitted the action claiming it was an isolated incident. Instead of reporting the incident to police, Carlson chose to report it to the Archbishop. Adamson appealed to Roach who left him at Immaculate Conception with strict orders to cease all youth involvement. Adamson ignored the order and continued his involvement with parish youth.
While Carlson has stated in deposition testimony that he never trusted Adamson, he didn’t confront his Archbishop either. Roach, on the other hand, remained Adamson’s cheerleader and continued to give him assignments after more revelations of youth contact.
After several more allegations surfaced about Adamson, Carlson wrote a memo to Roach concerning Adamson stating, ” that it probably would be first-degree criminal sexual contact.”
Robert Carlson, now an auxiliary bishop, never reported what he believed to be criminal behavior to the police. His silence and complicity in allowing a pedophile priest to remain in ministry served him well. In 1994, Carlson became the bishop of Sioux Falls. In 2005, he was transferred to a larger diocese, Saginaw, before being named as Archbishop of St. Louis.
Now, that he’s reached the pinnacle of power, Carlson says he should have reported the abuse to authorities, characterizing his actions as a “mistake”. The troubling fact remains that this ambitious priest could’ve prevented the sexual abuse of other children if he had done the right thing in the Adamson case. Of course, that would have meant putting his ecclesiastical career in jeopardy. The institutional Church doesn’t reward whistleblowers. I doubt that if Carlson had done the right thing, he would be an archbishop today. Now that he’s archbishop, Carlson vows to take a tough stand on priest abusers. However, his public pronouncements ring hollow. When he had the opportunity to do the right thing, he chose to protect his career rather than children. He got what he wanted and countless children were sacrificed on the altar of his ambivavlence and ambition.
Kudos to the St. Louis Post Dispatch for their research, investigation, and reporting on this sad case.