Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Archbishop Carlson, don’t insult our intelligence!

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 10, 2014

Please, Archbishop Carlson, don’t insult our intelligence, and we won’t insult yours.

You have testified, under oath, that in the 1980s it was not clear to you that sexual abuse of children was a crime. Do you expect us to believe that? Do you want us to believe it?

If you didn’t know that molesting children was a crime, why were you concerned that parents of a victim might talk to the police? If you didn’t know that sex with children was illegal, why did you write a memo alluding to the statute of limitations?

Leave aside the apparent contradictions in your sworn testimony. Taking it at face value, how are we to respond to your claim that you didn’t know for sure that child abuse was a crime? We aren’t talking about fine detail of the law, some gray area, some arcane local statute. Civilized society, always and everywhere, has taken a dim view of the sexual exploitation of children. If you actually expect us to believe that you didn’t know it was illegal to molest children, then you’re also asking us to believe that you have less practical judgment, less common-sense discernment, less understanding of the nature of law than we expect of any morally responsible person.

But of course you probably did know that sexual abuse was illegal. You probably meant to say that you didn’t know whether or not the terms of the law applied to the particular cases under discussion during your deposition. You were giving a lawyerly response, trying to defend yourself and defend the archdiocese in which you had served. In much the same way, you dodged other questions by saying almost 200 times that you couldn’t recall the details of various cases.

Well, how well has that legal strategy worked? Is the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis in a stronger legal position, now that your deposition has been made public—as you should have known, long so, that it eventually would be? Is the reputation of the Catholic Church improved by the fact that, yet again, an archbishop has been quoted as saying things that most people find impossible to believe? How could things have been worse, if you had simply told the unvarnished truth to the best of your ability, and admitted what everyone already knows?

For nearly 15 years now, we beleaguered lay Catholics have been subjected to the painful spectacle of watching our Church leaders make implausible statements, feign ignorance, deny responsibility, and fight to prevent disclosure of damaging testimony. That strategy has always failed.

Enough! The paltry defenses, the dog-ate-the-homework excuses are an embarrassment to the Church. Stop it! If you don’t know the truth, if you aren’t prepared to testify to the truth, then you aren’t fit to be a Catholic bishop. If you can’t be a credible witness, resign!


The St. Louis archdiocese has issued a statement complaining about “inaccurate and misleading reporting” about Archbishop Carlson’s deposition. The statement suggests that when he expressed uncertainty about “whether I knew it was a crime or not,” the archbishop was referring to a new mandated-reporting law. But the full transcript of the archbishop’s deposition, which the archdiocese helpfully provides, shows otherwise:

Q. (By Mr. Anderson) Archbishop, you knew it was a crime for an adult to engage in sex with a kid?

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.

The statement from the St. Louis archdiocese claims to be “intended to clear up confusion” about the archbishop’s testimony. I’m afraid it’s actually designed to cause confusion, because right now clarity does not work in Archbishop Carlson’s favor.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - May. 28, 2017 10:18 AM ET USA

    The strongest legacy that distinguishes Pope Francis from his predecessors is his predecessors' embrace of absolute morality and absolute truth. You will find no shades of gray in their moral instruction, no condemnation of rigid adherence to the moral truths the Church has lived by always and everywhere. To reject moral truth is to reject absolute truth. To reject absolute truth is to relegate Catholicism to a "denomination" that changes doctrines with the times. Reject truth = reject Christ.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 28, 2017 12:53 AM ET USA

    About Fr. Reese: public Revelation ended with the death of St. John the Apostle, and the Church is the guardian and the herald of that Revelation. This makes the Church "conservative" by nature, with no one in the Church endowed with authority to tweak the Revelation. Unlike politics, authentic Catholic Faith leaves no room for any kind of "progressivism" towards "new and better" Revelation. And, unlike in politics, in the Church it is possible to "progress" so far as to become a heretic.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Jun. 13, 2014 11:44 AM ET USA

    Those answers make a lot more sense if you know that for depositions, you are coached to answer "I don't know" or "I don't remember" whenever the question is "did you know..." because it is very hard to prove that you did now, unless something you wrote at the time indicating such knowledge is in hands of the opposing attorney. Saying "I don't know" cuts off the line of inquiry of "what did or didn't you do".

  • Posted by: Duns Scotus - Jun. 11, 2014 3:50 PM ET USA

    An extremely generous reading of the entire context of the above exchange might allow that the Archbishop misunderstood what he was being asked. It is (barely) possible that the Archbishop believed he was being asked whether he knew that not REPORTING the sexual abuse of a minor was a crime, not whether the abuse itself was a crime. This is the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Right's take. I leave it up to each individual whether such a take is admirable charity or foolish fantasy.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jun. 11, 2014 9:32 AM ET USA

    And those of us here in New England have been treated to this episcopal nonsense very close to home for the entire 15 years since it started. Cardinal Law and his several lieutenants later assigned to other nearby dioceses have dealt the Church blows from which it may never fully recover. Voltaire himself was a less effective enemy than these evasive, often disingenuous men. Those in other parts of the country at least for a while had physical distance between themselves and the rot; we didn't.

  • Posted by: shrink - Jun. 11, 2014 9:26 AM ET USA

    Let the new evangelization descend on the bishop who, in prayer and reflection, comes to realize that it's time to leave his office to better men. If the bishop won't be evangelized, let Francis be the good shepherd, who puts the bishop out to pasture.

  • Posted by: Frodo1945 - Jun. 11, 2014 5:04 AM ET USA


  • Posted by: meegan2136289 - Jun. 10, 2014 10:29 PM ET USA

    Seriously, why don't these guys ever have the humility or intelligence to resign?