Eighth Priest Removed after Abuse Charge

By Charles Bosworth
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
February 5, 1994

The Catholic Diocese of Belleville removed another priest from his parish because he has been accused of sexual misconduct, a church official said Friday.

The Rev. James E. Margason, diocese administrator, said Friday that the Rev. Walter MacPherson, 70, was the latest priest to stand accused. MacPherson was removed from St. Martin of Tours Parish in Washington Park and placed on administrative leave after a call to a special church hot line within the past two weeks, Margason said.

Eight priests in the Belleville Diocese now have been removed by the church, and a ninth stepped down on his own. A deacon also has been accused of sexual wrongdoing.

Margason said that MacPherson, who has worked in the diocese since his ordination in 1955, was accused of sexually abusing a boy in his early teens more than 20 years ago. But Margason said he could not disclose details of the allegation or the identity of the alleged victim because of privacy considerations.

"As a church, we continue to reach out to victims and their families to offer them healing and counseling," Margason said at a news conference Friday in O'Fallon. "We continue to invite anyone who has been abused to inform us of the incidents" by calling the hot line at (800) 640-3044.

The Diocesan Review Board recommended MacPherson's removal. Margason accepted the recommendation "with deep sorrow." He said MacPherson had been the pastor at St. Martin's at 1340 58th Street for 20 years.

He said MacPherson is cooperating with the investigation and is receiving psychological counseling while the review board evaluates the allegation and decides on his fitness for the ministry. But Margason said placing MacPherson on leave and providing him with counseling were not admissions of guilt.

Margason described MacPherson as very popular in the parish of 100 families, the only Catholic church in Washington Park. A woman who answered the door at the church office Friday said no one had any comment.

Elmer Holtz of Belleville, who regularly attends bingo games at the church, said he knew MacPherson casually and found him "really nice and sociable."

"He'd always come in and chat with all of the women there and sometimes have dinner with them."

Margason said he met with some parishioners Thursday night and they were distraught over the allegation. He said many refused to believe it and asked how they could help MacPherson. Margason said he would meet with parishioners at the church today to discuss their concerns.

As the diocese has done at all the parishes where pastors have been accused of sexual misconduct, Margason said, those at St. Martin's will be offered the services of a professional counselor with experience in sexual-abuse cases.

Similar charges have been filed against eight other priests and a deacon in the diocese, and they have been put on administrative leave. Only one - the Rev. Louis Peterson of St. Teresa Church in Belleville - voluntarily stepped down after the allegation against him last month, even though the review board had not found enough evidence to recommend removal.

Margason said the review board had decided that four of those priests were unfit for further ministry and can never be assigned to any post that allowed contact with children.

When an allegation against a priest is made in the Belleville Diocese, the review board, set up last spring, investigates and recommends to church officials whether a priest should be removed from parish work. The review board consists of priests, lay people and social workers.

Diocesan officials generally have followed the recommendations of the review board, Margason has said. If the board finds that a priest might pose a threat to children, he is removed from parish work, Margason said. After a priest is removed, diocesan officials study the allegations further to determine if he should be returned to his duties. All information received by the review board is shared with state's attorney's offices in the counties where the alleged abuses occurred, Margason said.

No criminal charges have been filed against any of the priests.

Margason said he was unsure whether the diocese had a higher number of allegations against priests than others in the country, even though 8 percent of the 110 priests in the diocese have been accused. The diocese had handled the allegations more publicly than others, so there was no way to know how many had been accused elsewhere, he said.

The loss of services from nine priests was causing staffing problems and some priests have been covering two or three parishes, he said.


Correction Published: Feb. 6, 1994 - The Rev. James E. Margason, administrator of the Belleville Diocese, says the Diocesan Review Board gives Illinois state's attorneys information on cases of possible sexual abuse involving priests if the statute of limitations has not expired. A story in Saturday's Post-Dispatch misstated the diocese's policy on sharing information.


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