Almost 50 years ago, Fitzpatrick broke the silence about what distraught parents from Caledonia told him about the priest and notified Winona Bishop Edward A. Fitzgerald about Adamson the very next day.
Fr. Jim Fitzpatrick served the Church as a pastor and teacher from 1963-1973. Fitz left active ministry in 1973, married and continued serving the Church as a parish administrator in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. And he would remain in the dark about Adamson.
After Fitz’ report in 1965, Adamson was cycled from parish to parish, treatment center to treatment center and diocese to diocese.
Unknown to Fitz, Bishop Loras Watters, successor to Bishop Fitzgerald, had reports from four experts about Fr. Adamson—the Institute for Living (a well-known Catholic treatment facility), a local priest therapist, the Bishop’s own priest personnel board and the Servants of the Paraclete. All said that Adamson was fixated on boys.
Finally, Bishop Watters, under the Hierarchy’s policy of omertà, applied the “geographic solution” and ordered Adamson to Saint Paul, where the “scandal” could be better controlled.
By this time, Fitz was working as a church administrator. He received a call that Auxiliary Bishop Robert J. Carlson had assigned Fr. Thomas Adamson to his parish. Fitz immediately called Winona and asked Vicar General Father Donald Schmitz if Adamson was still sexually abusing boys. Schmitz—according to Fitz—said yes. Fitz threatened to resign. Carlson instead transferred Adamson to another parish.
This story is informative on several levels. First, many Roman Catholic priests have one first-hand story about a fellow priest who sexually abused a child.
For example: with Adamson, dozens of priests, members of the personnel boards and bishops in Winona and Saint Paul (pastors, chancellors, vicar generals, auxiliary bishops, bishops) had reports on Adamson. But only one broke with the rule of omertà.
In addition, the hierarchy will and does use coercive power in order to silence whistleblowers—right out of Machiavelli’s “The Prince. According to Fitz, Auxiliary Bishop Carlson told Jim Fitzpatrick the price he would have to pay (firing and black balling) if he went to the police or press about Adamson. Nota Bene, Carlson was promoted and now is the Archbishop of Saint Louis.
Lastly, some will criticize Fitz for not breaking the chain of command sooner and calling someone outside the Church. But I commend Fitz for following his conscience, speaking now and demonstrating by example how to put children first.
My hope is that the thousands of priests and lay ministers in Minnesota who know about perpetrator priests will follow the example of Jim Fitzpatrick. I hope they will follow their conscience, break their silence and report what they know.
There is hope, and Jim Fitzpatrick is leading the way.