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  Sesser Priest Is Placed on Leave
Accusations of Molestation in '70s Surface

By Beth Gansmann
Belleville News-Democrat
May 2, 2002

A Belleville Diocese priest was placed on administrative leave Tuesday amid allegations he molested a child in his New Jersey parish more than two decades ago, officials announced Wednesday.

The Rev. Edward Balestrieri, administrator of St. Mary Parish in Sesser, was placed on administrative leave after Bishop Wilton Gregory received notification last week from the Order of the Most Holy Trinity, a religious community, that Balestrieri was accused of sexual misconduct with a minor in his Asbury Park, N.J., parish in 1975 or 1976, said Kenneth York, chancellor of the Belleville Diocese.

At the time, Balestrieri served as the parish pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel under the direction of Bishop George W. Ahre.

After the allegations surfaced, Balestrieri came to Illinois and served as a pastor of a church in Marion with the Trinitarians, York said.

Balestrieri, 71, officially transferred to the Diocese of Belleville in 1985, but York said the Belleville Diocese didn't know about any allegations of sexual misconduct regarding Balestrieri because no one told them.

"If I had someone that I knew was a problem, I wouldn't inflict that problem on someone else," York said.

Balestrieri worked as a chaplain at Good Samaritan Church in Mount Vernon and served parishes in Vienna, Stone Fort, Cobden, Todd's Mill, Shawneetown and Pond Settlement, York said.

No allegations have been made against Balestrieri since he began working for the Belleville Diocese, York said.

Balestrieri could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The temporary removal of Balestrieri means a diocese review board has heard credible evidence but will investigate further before recommending a final action to Gregory, York said.

David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Gregory should address the concerns of Catholics in those communities.

"At the very least, Bishop Gregory needs to go to these parishes where he served and tell the parishioners that if they have any information regarding any new allegations they have a civic and moral responsibility to call the police if you have any information," Clohessy said.

Officials from the Diocese of Trenton, N.J., and police in Monmouth County, N.J., have been notified about the allegations against Balestrieri, York said.

Steve Rubio, a Margate, N.J., attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse at the hands of priests, said the current political atmosphere will force police and prosecutors to fully investigate, even if criminal charges can't be pursued because of statutes of limitations.

"They have been embarrassed by these allegations, and they want to determine if there's been a conspiracy which hasn't allowed them to pursue these cases," Rubio said.

Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, returned from an emergency two-day meeting at the Vatican last week intended to show the world that the church is moving decisively to prevent sexual abuse by clergymen.

After the meeting, Gregory said he expects dioceses to implement a zero-tolerance policy, a subject that cardinals differed about in Rome.

"Each time we face an allegation of this nature, it is a difficult and traumatic event for the victim or victims and for their families, for our parishes, for the local community and for the priests and their families," Gregory said.

But Clohessy said the idea that the diocese could decide to return Balestrieri to a parish wouldn't be in line with Pope John Paul II's directive during his meeting with the American cardinals.

"It certainly would be bothersome if he returned to service," Clohessy said. "The pope put it very clearly. He said that there is no place in ministry for someone who would harm a child."

 
 

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