As an archbishop and someone who dealt with sexual abuse claims for 15 years, to state you were not sure whether it was illegal for priests to have sex with children or not raises huge concerns. Robert Carlson, 69 year-old St Louis Archbishop, testified during a lawsuit investigating religious organisations, and whether they were keeping abuse of children by priests a secret – his declaration arguably giving the answer.
Carlson also faces clergy abuse charges in his own district, where he has served as archbishop since 2009. The case in which he testified is looking at more than 100 priests and church employees who were involved in sexual abuse. He stated: “I’m not sure whether I knew it was a crime or not… I understand today.”
However, documents have been recovered that disproved his testimony. They show, for example, that he has been involved in discussions about sexual abuse victims and the limitations of such claims in the past. For example, in 1984 he wrote a document to the then-archbishop about the parent’s of a victim who were considering reporting the abuse to police. Carlson admitted he had never reported any incidents himself, but did once encourage parents to come forward and report inappropriate behaviour and abuse.
He said he was aware that the archdiocese had made mistakes, but that also had people in general, with regards to sexual abuse by the clergy. However he said that they had done all they could for the knowledge they had at that time, and that he thinks they did manage to do a good job. He also stated that yes, things could have been, and certainly now would be, handled differently.
The current lawsuits yet again highlight a perceived immortality against the law. Sexual abuse is always condemned, regardless of whether a person is a priest or religious authority, and religious organisations are undoubtedly aware of this. It seems more likely that there is a culture of ignorance, wherein abuse is overlooked or buried, therefore allowing such behaviour to exist.
All victims are urged to come forward to put an end to sexual abuse, and claim the compensation they deserve.