Attorney reveals personal files of accused priests
Files from the Diocese of Winona released to the public Tuesday revealed not only more details of abuse by 14 priests, but a prediction of bankruptcy.
In late March, Bishop John Quinn wrote a letter to Catholic Church officials that said in part, "the Diocese of Winona has received several claims of negligence ... anticipates several more and anticipates eventually bankruptcy as a result of these lawsuits."
Though the letter was written about the cases against former priest Leland Smith, it was in the file of Leo Koppala, a priest who was charged with second-degree criminal sexual conduct in 2013 in Faribault County. On March 17, Koppala was convicted of the charge and was deported to India in May. He remains a priest.
The files — some 17,000 pages worth — were obtained as part of a lawsuit filed last year by a victim of abuse against the Winona diocese and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. A judge's ruling forced church officials to turn over their previously unseen records of the 14 priests credibly accused of abuse, which included communication between church officials, parishioners and the priests.
On Tuesday, Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul attorney who represents several of the priests' victims, used a press conference in Rochester to make public the files they had received in June, calling it "a new day of exposure and forced transparency. It's really an opportunity to alert the communities in the Diocese of Winona that church officials did whatever they could to protect the reputation of the diocese, protect the reputation of the offender and to avoid scandal."
Quinn's response to the release of the files said in part that "the Diocese of Winona voluntarily released summaries of each of the files that have been publicly disclosed. Nearly all of the child sexual abuse committed by clergy occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. ... No priests, currently in active ministry within in the Diocese of Winona, have had credible accusations of child sexual abuse."
Survivors and priests
During Tuesday's press conference, Anderson introduced Paul Hotchkiss, who was allegedly sexually assaulted by former priest Thomas Adamson in the 1970s. Adamson, who is at the root of the lawsuit, spent time at St. Francis of Assisi in Rochester during that time, as well as at other parishes in the Winona diocese and the Archdiocese.
Hotchkiss said he reported the abuse when he was 15, "but the case disappeared. There was a police report written, then suppressed." The abuse didn't occur in Rochester, he said.
"It needs to stop," Hotchkiss said. "No more children can be hurt. These people can't be allowed to do this over and over. They're monsters."
Of the 14 priests named, nine are dead, "but their legacy is evergreen," Anderson said. Four others are in the process of being removed from the priesthood, "in response to pressure from lawsuits or a possible scandal."
Smith, for example, had been told in 2002 — after years of abuse claims — that he was not allowed to participate in public ministry, present himself as a priest or wear clerical garb, but it wasn't until March of this year that Quinn asked Pope Francis to remove Smith from the priesthood.
"Each bishop and top official from 1950 to the present made conscious choices to conceal crimes against children and protect the offenders," Anderson said. "The good news is, this information is out. The bad news is, there's much more to be disclosed."
There are eight other priests who have been accused; their files have been released to Anderson but not publicly identified.
Hotchkiss and others who have come forward, Anderson said, "have done something to help those kids whose names will never be known. When Paul calls his offender 'a monster,' he has every right to call him that."
During Tuesday's press conference, Hotchkiss said he came out of anonymity despite his "hurt and shame," which prompted a man from the audience to go up to the podium. In a profanity-laced shout, the man claimed Adamson also had assaulted him.
"There's a lot of anger involved," the man said as he left the room.
At least two other men present Tuesday also accused Adamson of abuse.
One man, who asked not to be identified, said he was abused as a junior high student at St. Francis of Assisi in Rochester.
"You didn't say no to this guy," the man said of Adamson. "He had me picked out; he took me downstairs" for the assault, "and made me feel like I was nothing."
Boys at the school joked about Adamson's advances, the man said, "so I'm sure I'm not the only one (he assaulted) at St. Francis. It makes me sick to look at his picture."
Still, he said, "I'm glad to see that things are changing. It's a new day, it's a better time."
Defense of the church
In his statement, Quinn stressed that the diocese's programming "requires training of all staff and volunteers associated with our parishes and schools to ensure the protection of our children. The Diocese of Winona immediately discloses all reports of child sexual abuse to law enforcement and ensures compliance with mandatory reporting requirements for all of its priests and teachers within the Diocese of Winona."
Anderson said he believes church officials are reporting new cases of abuse, "but I don't have the confidence they've come fully clean" about past instances.
Another man from the crowd said he understood protecting the victims' identities, "but how do these deceased priests defend themselves?"
"I have no sorrow for those men on this," Anderson said. "They don't have to defend themselves. Their own superiors determined they abused the children, not me. Our concern is not about the deceased offending priests, it is for their victims."
The lawsuit that sparked the release of the files came on the heels of the 2013 passage of the Child Victims Act, which allows survivors of past sexual abuse to file claims against their abusers and the institutions that protected the abusers. The Child Victims Act also eliminated the civil statute of limitations moving forward.
Of 7,000 priests accused of abuse in the United States, less than 1 percent have faced criminal charges because of the statute of limitations, said Patrick Wall, a former priest and victims advocate.
Copies of the files are available for viewing on Anderson's website .
Document: Winona Diocese anticipates bankruptcy