Archdiocese of St. Louis Fights Back Against Accusations That a Priest Didn’t Know Child Rape Was a Crime

The other day, I posted about a deposition given by Bishop Robert J. Carlson (now an Archbishop) in which he told a prosecutor that he didn’t know, in the 1970s, that raping a child was a crime:

Q. Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid [in the 1970s]?

A. I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not. I understand today it’s a crime.

Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

A. I don’t remember.

Q. When did you first discern that it was a crime for a priest to engage in sex with a kid who he had under his control?

A. I don’t remember that either.

Q. Do you have any doubt in your mind that you knew that in the ’70s?

A. I don’t remember if I did or didn’t.

He ended up saying some variation of “I don’t remember” 193 times over the course of that conversation. I suspected that it was likely his lawyers told him to admit as little as possible under questioning so that his words couldn’t be used against him in the future, but the execution of that advice just looked awful.

Today, the Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a press release trying to calm the outrage, explaining that of course Carlson knew child rape was a crime. He was only referring to mandatory reporting of child rape when he said responded:

During a press conference held on June 9, 2014, Plaintiff’s lawyer strategically took Archbishop Carlson’s response to a question out of context and suggested that the Archbishop did not know that it was a criminal offense for an adult to molest a child. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Charles Goldberg, attorney representing Archbishop Carlson at this deposition, explained that while current Minnesota law makes it a crime for clergy persons not to report suspected child abuse, that statute did not become effective until 1988. What Plaintiff’s counsel has failed to point out to the media is that Mr. Goldberg himself noted at this point in the deposition “you’re talking about mandatory reporting?” (emphasis added). When the Archbishop said “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,” he was simply referring to the fact that he did not know the year that clergy became mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse (pgs. 108-109).

The problem is that the very transcript of the deposition suggests otherwise.

If you look at p. 108, Plaintiff’s counsel brings up mandatory reporting, Goldberg (Carlson’s lawyer) objects, and Plaintiff’s counsel says “I’ll ask another question.”

That’s when he asked — very clearly, I might add — about whether Carlson “knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid.” And Carlson said he wasn’t sure if he knew it was a crime back then.

In fact, it isn’t until the bottom of p. 112 that Plaintiff’s counsel returns to the line of questioning that involves mandatory reporting.

The video isn’t out of context. The media reaction isn’t overblown. The Archdiocese is just trying to downplay an astonishing moment of disturbing clarity. Don’t let them get away with it.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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