A month ago, writing about the recent and troubling criminal and civil cases against a St. Louis priest, the Post-Dispatch urged Archbishop Robert Carlson to “live up to his promise to be open and transparent.”
This week, Carlson basically thumbed his nose at the Post’s advice, proving, again, that his pledges to be “open” in clergy sex abuse and cover up cases are phony.
A civil child sex abuse and cover up lawsuit charges Carlson with six offenses, including attempted tampering with evidence, breach of fiduciary duty, intentional failure to supervise clergy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In his legal response, filed this week, Carlson denies only one of those accusations: the evidence tampering allegation.
He ignores all five other charges, except to say “Legally, no one can even touch me, whether I did these awful things or not, because the law doesn’t apply to bishops like me.”
Carlson has filed a “motion to dismiss,” basically saying even if the priest molested the girl and he knew the priest had problems and he didn’t supervise the priest and tried to tamper with evidence and all that – it’s all irrelevant because Missouri law exempts him, legally, from any responsibility whatsoever.
Now, let’s be clear: Missouri does indeed have some archaic laws that are inadequate to expose and punish those who commit and conceal child sex crimes.
So it’s possible that ultimately, Carlson and his lawyers might prevail. Even if the recently-arrested predator priest – Fr. Joseph Jiang – pleads guilty or is found guilty in criminal or civil court, Carlson might skate free.
But that’s not the issue here. The issue is how Carlson is choosing to respond to the civil suit against him regarding Fr. Jiang’s alleged abuse. He’s choosing, again, to mount a defense that thwarts, not honors, his pledge of “openness.” He’s choosing, again, a selfish defense, one that he hopes will get him out of this case in the quickest and easiest way possible (before he has to turn over records, complete interrogatories, and face hard questions under oath in a deposition). He’s choosing a defense that’s designed to obscure – not reveal the truth.
And the key word here is “choosing.” He doesn’t have to try to exploit legal technicalities. He could take his promise to be “open” seriously. In both the court of law, and the court of public opinion, he could specifically admit or rebut each specific charge – that Fr. Jiang admitted his crimes, that he - the archbishop – should have supervised Fr. Jiang better, that he – the archbishop – tried to get his hands on that evidence, that check, and all the rest.
That would be the pastoral response. That’s what Carlson’s flock deserves. That’s what the Post-Dispatch called for.
Instead of “openness and transparency,” Carlson’s opting for more selfishness and secrecy.