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St. Louis Archbishop Carlson implicated in child sex abuse claim in Minnesota

By Jesse Bogan jbogan@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8255

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson didn’t report a clergy sex abuse claim to police in the 1980s when he was a leader with the Roman Catholic Church in Minnesota, according to a lawsuit filed there Tuesday. And the same priest in question allegedly went on to do more harm.

Carlson “went along to get along, and he got along quite well,” attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing the most recent alleged victim, said of the St. Louis archbishop.

The lawsuit filed by “Jane Doe 23” claims the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was negligent for allowing the Rev. Robert M. Thurner to work as a priest — with access to children — after he admitted to then-Archbishop John Roach that he bought a 16-year-old boy alcohol and sexually abused him.

Carlson, who came to St. Louis in 2009 from Saginaw, Mich., previously served as an auxiliary bishop in Minnesota, where he grew up. Carlson is named in the lawsuit as one of four church leaders who “learned or should have learned that Thurner had abused at least one child.”

 A 1982 internal memo included in the new suit indicates that Carlson had been informed of Thurner’s behavior.

“Father Thurner explained that he had had a brief sexual relationship with a 16 year old boy and had also purchased liquor for that boy,” Roach wrote to “Father Carlson” and another church leader in the memo. “… Father Thurner reviewed with me a fairly long history of anger, depression and ambivalence about sexuality.” Roach also said in the memo that Thurner would write a letter of resignation and seek immediate “treatment” and “intensive spiritual direction.”

Though the memo says “the matter” was being investigated by local police, Anderson, the attorney, said police at that time knew only about the alcohol side of the allegations, not the sex abuse. No charges were filed.

Despite a resignation letter, Thurner was moved to a different church in 1983. And parishioners weren’t warned about the priest’s admitted abusive behavior, according to the suit. It was there that Thurner allegedly met Jane Doe 23’s devout Catholic family.

Now in her 30s, she says Thurner sexually abused her around 1985, when she was in second grade. She thought she was his only victim and kept quiet until last week, when she found reference to another case online from the 1990s in which two men claimed Thurner had abused them as teenagers.

Katie Pesha, executive director of communications and planning for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and Angie Shelton, a community relations specialist, did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday afternoon. The archdiocese rarely comments on litigation.

According to a Minneapolis Star Tribune report, Doe 23’s lawsuit was made possible by a change in Minnesota law this year that gives past abuse victims a three-year window to bring lawsuits that previously were barred by a statute of limitations.

Carlson, who has mainly avoided controversy in the nationwide clergy sex abuse saga, has recently been targeted by victim advocates.

Apart from the Doe 23 case, the parents of a girl are suing the Archdiocese of St. Louis over claims that the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, an associate pastor at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End, molested their daughter. Jiang, 30, who followed Carlson to St. Louis from Saginaw and was close to the archbishop, was charged last year with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child and tampering with a witness or victim. His criminal trial was recently postponed in Pike County. No date has been set.