Robert James Carlson

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His Excellency, The Most Reverend
Robert James Carlson
Archbishop of St. Louis
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson exits the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis – 2010.
Archdiocese St. Louis
Appointed April 21, 2009
Installed June 10, 2009
Predecessor Raymond Leo Burke
Ordination May 23, 1970
Consecration January 11, 1984
by John Robert Roach, John Francis Kinney, and Paul Vincent Dudley
Personal details
Born (1944-06-30) June 30, 1944 (age 72)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Previous post
(Before the Cross There is No Defense)
Styles of
Robert James Carlson
Coat of arms of Robert James Carlson.svg
Reference style
Spoken style Your Excellency
Religious style Archbishop

Robert James Carlson (born June 30, 1944) is an American Roman Catholic cleric. He is the ninth Archbishop of St. Louis. He previously served as Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis (1983–1994), Bishop of Sioux Falls (1995–2004), and Bishop of Saginaw (2004–2009). His views are considered conservative.[citation needed]

Early life and ministry[edit]

Robert Carlson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota to Robert and Jeanne Carlson. His father was serving in the U.S. Navy on a destroyer in Guam when his son was born, and later worked as a Prudential insurance salesman for 43 years.[1] The eldest of five children, Carlson has four younger sisters, two of whom died in childhood. During high school, he studied under the Christian Brothers and played football.[1] He studied at St. Paul Seminary, from where he obtained Bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1966.

Carlson was ordained to the priesthood on May 23, 1970. He earned a Master's in Divinity from St. Paul Seminary in 1976, and a Licentiate of Canon Law from the Catholic University of America in 1979. He served as a pastor, a judge on the archdiocesan tribunal, director of the Office of Vocations, and chancellor of the curia in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He also served at the University of St. Thomas, where he was a chaplain to the hockey team.[1]

Episcopal career[edit]

Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis[edit]

On November 19, 1983, Carlson was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis and Titular Bishop of Avioccala by Pope John Paul II. He received his episcopal consecration on January 11, 1984 from Archbishop John Roach, with Bishops John Kinney and Paul Dudley serving as co-consecrators. He selected as his episcopal motto: Ante Crucem Nihil Defensionis, that is, "Before the Cross There is No Defense."

In 1984, Carlson was told of an accusation against a parish priest, the Rev. Thomas Adamson. Adamson had already spent two weeks in an inpatient clinic after being accused of abuse four years earlier. Carlson confronted Adamson, who admitted committing sexual abuse against children and "agreed that it probably would be first-degree criminal sexual contact".[2] In a memo to Archbishop Roach, Carlson recommended "given the seriousness of our exposure that the Archdiocese posture itself in such a way that any publicity will be minimized."[2] Adamson later admitted to sexually abusing children in 10 of the 13 parishes he was assigned to. When the case became public, Carlson defended his earlier actions, stating, "My job was to investigate and report back to the archbishop what I found out, and that's exactly what I did."[2]

Bishop of Sioux Falls[edit]

Carlson was named coadjutor bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, on January 13, 1994 by Pope John Paul II. He succeeded Paul Dudley as the seventh Bishop of Sioux Falls upon the latter's retirement on March 21, 1995. He served as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Vocations from 1992 to 1994, and of the Subcommittee on Youth from 1993 to 1996.[3]

While serving in Sioux Falls, Carlson offered to allow South Dakota's attorney general inspect the diocese' files as part of his effort to demonstrate his open approach to sexual abuse on the part of priests. He required diocesan employees and priests transferring into his diocese to undergo thorough background checks.[4]

Bishop of Saginaw[edit]

He was appointed the fifth Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, on December 29, 2004, in one of the last episcopal appointments to the American Catholic Church made by Pope John Paul II. Succeeding the late Bishop Kenneth Untener, he was installed at St. Mary's Cathedral on February 24, 2005. He later said that upon arriving he reviewed the file of every priest in the diocese as a proactive measure against sexual abuse on the part of priests.[4] During his tenure in Saginaw, Carlson focused on priestly vocations, Catholic schools, service to the poor, stewardship, and evangelization. He also published six pastoral letters; created the Saginaw Area Catholic Schools system; and established two charities, the Bishop's Charity Golf Classic and the Bishop's Charity Ball.

In demonstration of his dedication to vocations, Carlson filled the role of diocesan vocations director himself. In 2005 the number of seminarians increased from 4 to 12, and in 2006 the number of seminarians again increased to 19.[5] In August 2006 the first permanent deacon in 25 years was ordained for the diocese.[6] In June 2007, two men were ordained to the priesthood and five to the transitional diaconate.

Archbishop of St. Louis[edit]

Pope Benedict XVI named Carlson the ninth Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, on April 21, 2009.[7] He replaced Archbishop Raymond Burke, who was appointed Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura in the Roman Curia in June 2008. As Archbishop, Carlson is the spiritual leader of 566,000 Catholics in eastern Missouri.[8] He received the pallium from The Pope on June 29, 2009, in a ceremony at St. Peter's Basilica.[9]

Soon after Carlson's arrival, the pastor of a St. Louis parish was arrested and suspended from priestly duties for alleged sexual improprieties with minors. Carlson visited and spoke to the parish soon afterward at one of their Masses and notified the previous parishes where the priest had served of the allegations. He was praised for his response.[citation needed]

In 2005, Carlson's predecessor Burke had excommunicated parish priest Rev. Marek Bozek and the lay board of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Church as part of a decades-long dispute over the control over parish property, the appointment of a Polish or Polish-speaking pastor to replace Bozek, Bozek's status and compensation, and whom to recognize as a parishioner or board member.[10] Carlson, after trying to reconcile with the board and parishioners,[11] concluded an agreement in which the archdiocese surrendered its property claims and St. Stanislaus agreed not to claim any affiliation with the Roman Catholic church.[12]


Carlson is considered theologically conservative.[13] His appointment follows a pattern observed by John Allen, Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, of former Pope Benedict choosing prelates "who are basically conservative in both their politics and their theology, but also upbeat, pastoral figures given to dialogue."[14]

Pro-choice politicians[edit]

Regarding withholding Holy Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, and who persist in doing so even after consultation with their Bishop, Archbishop Carlson has stressed the need for personal dialogue with them but also affirmed the validity of denying Holy Communion to such individuals as he said that "If I were to enter into dialogue with somebody, and after they reflect on the discussion and that person persisted, it could come to that point....Archbishop Burke, who is on the Supreme Apostolic Signatura, has combined in an interesting way, and I think he does it correctly. And he's not just speaking anymore as the Archbishop of St. Louis, he is the prefect of the Signatura. It appears that's the direction the church consensus is moving towards. ... Could we get into that situation? Yes. But at least in my own time in St. Louis, I'd like to have a crack at the dialogue first."[15]

During his tenure, Carlson was a frequent critic of U.S. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), who held certain positions contrary to Catholic teachings. In 1997, before a Senate vote on partial-birth abortion legislation, Carlson denounced a compromise proposed by Daschle that would ban the procedure but allow exemptions for women claiming mental or physical health reasons, calling the proposition a "smokescreen" designed to "provide cover for pro-abortion senators and President Clinton, who wanted to avoid a veto confrontation." In response, Daschle described the Bishops as being "more identified with the radical right than with thoughtful religious leadership."[16]

In 2003, Carlson privately urged Daschle to no longer identify himself as a Catholic because of his support for abortion.[16][17] Daschle refused to disclose any details of his communication with Carlson, saying, "I am not going to participate in a debate that is intended to politicize anyone's religious beliefs..."[17] The Bishop later added, "I would never break off dialogue or a pastoral relationship with anyone."[17][18]

In an August 2004 statement, Carlson reportedly "stopped short" of saying that it was a sin for a Catholic to vote for a Democrat.[19]

During the 2008 presidential election, Carlson stated, "A Catholic can, in good conscience, vote for a pro-choice candidate only if other issues outweigh this one in number and in kind."[1] The day following Barack Obama's victory, he said, "This election has shown that any child who is born in America has the opportunity to ascend to the highest political office in the land. We must continue to work and pray tirelessly for the day when every child who is conceived will have the right to live."[20]

On May 15, 2009, Carlson expressed his disappointment over the University of Notre Dame's decision to have President Obama deliver its commencement speech and receive an honorary degree, and said, "Notre Dame has to figure out who they are—are they of the culture, or are they of the Church?"[21]

Girl Scouts[edit]

In February 2016, Carlson encouraged pastors to review their relationship with Girl Scouts of America, and their parent organization World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), due to "a troubling pattern of behavior" in regards to Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates. [22]


Carlson survived stage-four bladder cancer in the 1990s, having once been told by his doctor to arrange his financial affairs in order to prepare for an imminent death.[23] He has undergone a total of seven cancer-related procedures, and partly credited a trip to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fátima in Portugal for his recovery.[23]

Other Appointments[edit]

Bishop Carlson serves as:

  • Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Religious, and Vocations
  • Episcopal Advisor for the Cursillo Movement, Region VI
  • Chairman of the USCCB Committee for Catholic Charismatic Renewal
  • Member of the Canon Law Society of America
  • Board member for the Catholic Mutual Relief Society in Omaha, Nebraska
  • Member of the USCCB Subcommittee on Youth and Young Adults
  • Board member for the International Dominican Foundation
  • Board member for St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado
  • President of the Bishop's Advisory Board at the Institute of Priestly Formation in Omaha
  • Past President and Founder of the Catholic Youth Foundation USA (originally the National Foundation for Catholic Youth Ministry)

Recent publications[edit]

  • The Liberating Power of this Sacrament, Instruction on the Sacrament of Penance, Lent 2009
  • Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Pastoral Letter on Peace, December 12, 2008
  • 'Our witness must grow stronger', Statement on the results of the Nov 4 General Election, November 5, 2008
  • Preparing for the Nov 4 General Election, On Abortion, Catholic Voters, and Proposal 2, October 28, 2008
  • Body and Soul, A reflection for couples called to the vocation of marriage on the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, July 25, 2008
  • Jesus Christ, the Divine Physician, Pastoral Letter on Penance, January 25, 2008
  • Pastoral Letter on Evangelization, January 6, 2008

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Rice, Patricia (April 21, 2009). "Robert James Carlson is St. Louis Catholics' new archbishop". St. Louis Beacon. 
  2. ^ a b c Townsend, Tim. "Carlson admits errors in handling pedophile priest in '80s; New St. Louis Archbishop says he will apply lessons of leadership here." St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 2009.
  3. ^ "Pope Names Bishop Robert J. Carlson As Archbishop Of St. Louis; Bishop Robert J. Cunningham As Bishop Of Syracuse, New York". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. April 21, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b "Archbishop Carlson reflects on sex abuse mistakes". The Journal. New Ulm, Minnesota. July 5, 2009. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  5. ^ Mercer, Joshua (December 10, 2006). "A 'Culture of Vocations' Brings Vitality to the Saginaw Diocese". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  6. ^ Treadwell, M. (August 15, 2006) "Deacon Ordination First in 25 Years", Press Release.
  7. ^ "The Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson". Archdiocese of St. Louis. Retrieved 2016-03-18. 
  8. ^ "Rinunce e Nomine: Nomina dell'Arcvescovo di St. Louis (U.S.A.)" [Waivers and Nominations: Appointment of the Archbishop of St. Louis (U.S.A.)]. Daily Bulletin. Holy See Press Office. 
  9. ^ "Reception of the Pallium – Archbishop Robert J. Carlson", St. Louis Review
  10. ^ "Q & A Regarding Reconciliation of Saint Stanislaus Board Members and Lawsuit". Archdiocese of St. Louis. July 23, 2008. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  11. ^ Carlson, Robert J. (July 29, 2010). "An Offer to the Parishioners of St. Stanislaus" (Press release). Archdiocese of St. Louis. Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  12. ^ Townsend, Tim (February 14, 2013). "St. Louis Archdiocese and St. Stanislaus reach settlement that makes church independent". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved April 8, 2013. 
  13. ^ O'Connor, Phillip (April 23, 2009). "New St. Louis archbishop shepherded conservative change in his former diocese". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 
  14. ^ Allen, John L. (February 23, 2009). "Benedict's U.S. appointments follow a pattern". National Catholic Reporter. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ a b Bottum, Joseph (April 17, 2003). "Tom Daschle's Duty to Be Morally Coherent". The Weekly Standard. 
  17. ^ a b c Filteau, Jerry (April 21, 2009). "Bishop Robert J. Carlson of Saginaw headed to St. Louis". National Catholic Reporter. 
  18. ^ Wittenauer, Cheryl (April 21, 2009). "Pope Benedict XVI names Saginaw, Mich., Bishop Robert Carlson as new archbishop of St. Louis". Los Angeles Times. 
  19. ^ Sanderson, Jennifer (October 24, 2004). "Politics Mingles Uneasily With Faith". Argus Leader. (subscription required (help)). 
  20. ^ "'Bishop Carlson: "Our witness must grow stronger"'". Diocese of Saginaw. 
  21. ^ Townsend, Tim (May 15, 2009). "Carlson assails school's plan to honor Obama". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 
  22. ^ Archdiocese of St. Louis Retrieved February 18, 2016.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. ^ a b Townsend, Tim (April 21, 2009). "A funny, moving debut for new archbishop". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

External links[edit]

Episcopal succession[edit]

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
Auxiliary Bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Paul Vincent Dudley
Bishop of Sioux Falls
Succeeded by
Paul J. Swain
Preceded by
Kenneth Edward Untener
Bishop of Saginaw
Succeeded by
Joseph R. Cistone
Preceded by
Raymond Leo Burke
Archbishop of Saint Louis
Succeeded by