Blog Post

What Did the Archbishop Really Say?

Archbishop Robert Carlson Archbishop Robert Carlson

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

The headlines have been screaming for days - St. Louis Archbishop Didn't Know Sex With Children was Crime - but the discerning Catholic should realize by now that the same Catholic-bashing news outlets that wrongly accused the Sisters of Bon Secours for dumping 800 babies in a septic tank in Ireland probably got this story wrong too.

And they did.

The Catholic League's Bill Donohue explains how the notorious Church-suing contingency lawyer, Jeff Anderson, released video clips this week from a May 23 deposition of St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson that made it look like the Archbishop hadn't the foggiest idea that sex with a child was against the law.

He did this by releasing a certain portion of the video tape which the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported contained the following comments.

“Mr. Anderson asked the archbishop if at the time [1984], he knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a child. ‘I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not,’ Archbishop Carlson replied. ‘I understand today it is a crime.’”

Anyone reading this would think it was true, that the Archbishop really didn't know, but Donohue got his hands on the whole transcript and it revealed a much different conversation.

"What actually happened was quite different," Donohue reports. "The lead question in this exchange was never shown on the video clip. The question was: 'Well, mandatory reporting laws went into effect across the nation in 1973, Archbishop' . . . 'And you knew at all times, while a priest, having been ordained in 1970, it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid. You knew that right?'"

Attorney Jeff Anderson Attorney Jeff Anderson

At this point, Carlson's attorney jumps in and says: “I’m going to object to the form of that question now. You’re talking about mandatory reporting” and Anderson agrees to rephrase it.

"The Post-Dispatch editorial picks up at this point, never indicating that the question was predicated on Carlson’s knowledge of mandatory reporting laws in the 1980s," Donohue explains.

"In other words, the video clip was rigged by Anderson to make the archbishop look as if he didn’t know it was a crime for an adult to have sex with a kid, and the media, led by the Post-Dispatch, published Anderson’s propaganda as if it were true. It is obvious that the media never independently verified Anderson’s selective account. Worse, the Post-Dispatch has refused to apologize to the archbishop. The editorial board is a professional disgrace."

The Archdiocese of St. Louis also tried to clear up the confusion being caused by the irresponsible coverage of this story by news outlets so intent on making the Church look bad they don't even try to avoid sloppy reporting.

In a statement issued Monday, the Archdiocese points out that Carlson had given testimony “several times many years ago” about the same allegations.

“In this most recent deposition, while not being able to recall his knowledge of the law exactly as it was many decades ago, the Archbishop did make clear that he knows child sex abuse is a crime today,” the statement said. “The question does not address the Archbishop’s moral stance on the sin of pedophilia, which has been that it is a most egregious offense.”

The Archdiocese rightly criticizes the press for their distorted coverage which not only smears the reputation of Archbishop Carlson, but "also reopened the wounds of survivors of the heinous act of sexual abuse, and has caused further pain to the Catholic Faithful, both here in the Archdiocese of St. Louis and beyond."

They have provided the public with the full transcript of Archbishop Carlson's deposition, which is available here.

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