Priest Is Sued by Alleged Victim of Sexual Abuse

By Peter Shinkle
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 4, 2005

A Roman Catholic priest who admitted to the Post-Dispatch in 2002 that he molested at least 12 boys became the target Friday of the first known lawsuit against him for alleged sexual abuse.

The Rev. Joseph Lessard was sued in St. Louis Circuit Court by an alleged victim identified only as "John Doe." The suit also claims the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis was aware of Lessard's abuse of children but left him in positions of authority over them.

The plaintiff claims that Lessard molested him while he was a boy from 1985 through 1992, when Lessard was serving at Holy Innocents Church in south St. Louis.

Lessard, who lived near Waterloo in 2002, could not be reached for comment.

Lessard said in March 2002 that he molested at least a dozen boys in three parishes from about 1969 until at least the mid-1970s. He acknowledged abusing children at churches in Franklin County and in Hillsboro.

The suit filed Friday alleges Lessard abused the plaintiff at Holy Innocents later, from 1985 through 1992, a period after which he had received treatment for his problems with sexual abuse at the request of the archbishop at the time, the late Cardinal John Joseph Carberry.

Throughout the 1970s, some families made complaints to the archdiocese about Lessard, but the archdiocese never asked him to confirm or deny an accusation, Lessard said in 2002.

But in 1976, Carberry called Lessard, then serving at St. Mary's in rural Franklin County, and said he was transferring him to Good Shepherd in Hillsboro.

Lessard said he molested a boy at Good Shepherd. It was late 1976, and he said he recognized his addiction to young boys as a problem. Lessard resigned from Good Shepherd and checked into a hospital in Minnesota.

A few months later, Carberry called Lessard to say he was needed back in St. Louis, where he served at a church in Chesterfield, Lessard said.

Then, in 1979, Carberry asked Lessard to go to a halfway house in New Mexico run by the Servants of the Paraclete, an order of priests who tend to priests with personal difficulties. There, he joined group sessions with other pedophile priests and talked extensively with doctors, he said.

When he returned to St. Louis in 1980, Lessard served as a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles. He later was assigned to Jewish Hospital and he lived at Holy Innocents, a church at 4923 Odell Street.

The suit alleges that there Lessard claimed to be providing spiritual guidance to the plaintiff, then a boy, even as he had unlawful sexual contact with him.


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