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  Priest's Life Turned Upside down by Abuse Charge Judged 'Unfounded'

By Joseph Kenny
Catholic News Service [Stlouis-Dismissed]
April 8, 2004

ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Without warning, his life was turned upside down.

Father Alexander Anderson, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka, learned on a spring day in 2002 that he was the subject of an allegation of sexual abuse against a minor.

He had been called to the St. Louis archdiocesan offices where he was told that officials had been informed of the allegation and would turn over the matter to the St. Louis circuit attorney for a full investigation.

Next came a media frenzy about the accusation. The allegation dated to the 1980s when Father Anderson was chaplain of the now-closed St. Joseph Home for Boys in South St. Louis.

Early on, after an investigation by an archdiocesan committee, the archdiocese issued a statement that it believed the allegation was "completely unfounded."

After her office's own investigation, Jennifer Joyce, circuit attorney for the city of St. Louis, said the case lacked enough evidence for prosecution.

In March the civil claim of sexual abuse was dismissed, and Father Anderson dropped a claim of defamation against his accuser.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, stating that the abuse claim had no merit, agreed to provide health assistance to the accuser in the form of direct payments to a health care provider of his choice.

Because the allegation was considered unsubstantiated, Father Anderson continued on as pastor of the Eureka parish throughout the ordeal. After the dismissal of the suits, a statement issued by the archdiocese noted that Father Anderson has the full support of Archbishop Raymond L. Burke.

How did Father Anderson handle the accusation and the attention it brought?

"Being innocent was a huge help," he told the St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper. "I knew that whatever happened, I was innocent."

He said he decided it was time to take the advice he had given to many other people over the years: "Everything happens for a reason. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. God doesn't send a problem without also sending help to deal with it."

Ordained in 1975, Father Anderson has been an associate pastor and has served in the Marriage Tribunal in addition to being a chaplain and pastor.

"I've had a relatively easy life," he said. "This gave me an appreciation of people who are behind the eight ball and don't know where to turn. But, happily, I've had plenty of places to turn -- my faith, the archdiocese, family, friends and parishioners."

Of his parish, he said, "people knew me and knew how out of character such a charge was. There was an outpouring of support. People came out of the woodwork to be kind, helpful and gracious."

Elaine Herbst, a former parish council president, said people in the parish believed right away that Father Anderson was innocent.

"It was obvious that this was not going to hold up," she said. "I really don't know anyone who wasn't behind Father. He's a very good man, a good priest. He's done wonders for our parish."

The daily work of leading his parish also helped, Father Anderson noted. He said it would have been easier for the archdiocese to remove him as pastor. But, he said, "they were very objective and overwhelmingly helpful."

He called child molestation a heinous crime. "At the same time, accusing innocent people is serious," he said. "I know we can handle it better than a little kid can handle being molested, but the damage is still there."

He said he filed a slander suit against his accuser to "stand up for the innocent. Too many coaches, volunteers, priests and teachers are sitting ducks for anything people want to say about them."

It is important to bring justice to those who are guilty and those who are innocent, he stated.

Father Anderson said he is not bitter, and he believes his accuser "wasn't as malicious as he was confused."

In a statement to his parishioners after the accuser's claims were dismissed, Father Anderson said, "I certainly forgive him for what he has done. He has not had an easy life, and I hope that these recent developments will allow him some measure of healing and peace. ... I hope he will come to understand the damage that can be done by falsely accusing someone of such a serious crime."

Father Anderson told the Review the matter is over. "The hard part is that it will always be with me. But it's easier to deal with as a scar than an open wound," he said.

The priest said he is more distant from children now and wants to avoid any possibility of being falsely accused.

 
 

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