Springfield Diocese Settles Lawsuit on Sexual Abuse:
Men Said That Abuse Occured in Granite

Belleville News-Democrat [Springfield IL]
July 22, 2004

The Catholic Diocese of Springfield recently settled a lawsuit brought by eight men who said they were sexually abused, some at a Granite City apartment, by a former priest in the 1970s.

Diocese spokeswoman Kathie Sass said Wednesday the men will share $1.2 million.

Five of the men filed suit against the diocese in Edwardsville in September. The lawsuit alleged abuse by former priest Walter Weerts between 1973 and 1980 when he was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Villa Grove. Three other men were added during the mediation process.

The five men alleged in the original lawsuit that Weerts took them on weekend getaways from their parish in Villa Grove, about 25 miles south of Champaign, to an apartment he owned in Granite City. It was there that Weerts abused them, they alleged.

Weerts, ordained in 1960, was known for his lavish lifestyle. The former priest drove a Mercedes and used a private plane to fly boys in his parishes on trips throughout Southern Illinois and around the country, according to the plaintiff's attorney, Jeffrey Anderson.

Weerts also was assigned to St. Ambrose in Godfrey in 1962; Sacred Heart in Granite City from 1963 to 1967; and St. Boniface in Edwardsville in 1980.

Weerts pleaded guilty in 1986 to three counts of sexual abuse in a case brought against him in Adams County. He was sentenced to six years in prison, but served only three and was removed from the priesthood in March 1989.

The defrocked priest then traveled to Palm Beach, Fla., where he worked as a horticulturist at Palm Beach Community College. He resigned from the school in December 1998 when authorities there discovered his criminal past. Weerts' last known address was in Jefferson, Texas.

Bishop George Lucas said the agreement is part of an effort by the diocese to help heal the wounds caused by clergy sexual abuse. "It is never our preference to be in an adversarial relationship in court with any person who has been harmed by someone in the church," he said in a statement.

The diocese requires anyone who has significant contact with minors through its churches, schools and other institutions to undergo a criminal background check and participate in a program designed to increase awareness of child sexual abuse, Sass said.

She said the agreement was reached early this month and announced in the diocese's July 18 newspaper.


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