Priest Who Left Treatment Center Lives near School
By Tim Townsend
September 15, 2004
An admitted pedophile priest from Davenport, Iowa, whose diocese sent him to a treatment center for priests in Jefferson County has left the residence and is living in an apartment in University City about 750 feet from an elementary school.
The Rev. William Wiebler, 72, "is beyond our power," said Rand Wonio, an attorney for the Davenport Diocese. "It's our understanding that he didn't want to live there anymore, and he's living on his own."
Wiebler entered St. John Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer in 2002, after admitting abusing several minors during the 1970s and '80s.
Wonio said that although officials at the Davenport Diocese did not know where Wiebler was living, they believed that it was somewhere near the treatment center and that Wiebler was "still visiting the center for outpatient treatment."
"We implored him to stay," said Wonio. "We don't want anyone else to be victimized by this man, but our legal right to force him to do anything is limited."
The Rev. Peter Lechner, director of St. John Vianney, said he would not comment on specific priests. He said that the center did not offer outpatient treatment and that it had a strict policy about leaving the campus. "They can only leave when they get permission from us," he said. "But we don't have the power to actually make them stay, other than if they don't agree with our policy, they have to go."
Lechner said "not too many" men leave the center before they are officially ready. He described the center as a long-term care facility in which some priests stay indefinitely if that is their diocese's request and said that if a priest leaves prematurely, "we always inform the diocese."
Wiebler lives in a University City apartment building in the 700 block of Leland Avenue, 750 feet from Delmar-Harvard elementary school, and about 1,500 feet from Julia Goldstein preschool.
Victoria Gonzalez-Rubio, principal of Delmar-Harvard, had not heard of Wiebler, but said, "You're always concerned about these things." She said the school communicates concepts like "reasonable requests" to the children and tells them that when they leave the school, they should do so in groups.
The man who answered the phone at Wiebler's number Tuesday evening said, "He's not here." Asked if the person on the phone was Wiebler, the man said, "He's gone," and hung up. An answering machine greeting Wednesday said, in the same voice, "I'm going to New York. Leave a message."
Neighbors described Wiebler as "quite eccentric," "overly friendly and enthusiastic" and "bizarre." Mimi Hubert, Wiebler's upstairs neighbor, said he often sits dressed in only a thin robe on a swing on his flower-filled, second-floor back porch. On Tuesday, a smiley-face helium balloon was tied to the porch rail.
Wiebler's downstairs neighbor, Steve Jones, said Wiebler moved into the building in early summer and never mentioned that he was a priest. He said he had seen Wiebler wearing a "robe-type thing" around the building.
Hubert said that because of the apartment building's proximity to the schools, "there are always kids running through the back yard." Hubert recently learned about Wiebler's history as a pedophile and said his proximity to these children made her uncomfortable.
"He should not be down the street from a grade school," she said. "I'm surprised he's allowed to be so close."
Wonio said that the Davenport Diocese learned that Wiebler had left the treatment center "a few weeks ago," and that the St. Louis County prosecutor's office was immediately informed, as was the St. Louis Archdiocese.
Irene Prior Loftus, chancellor of the Davenport Diocese, said that she could not remember when the diocese found out Wiebler had left St. John Vianney, but that as soon as the diocese did know, "the first thing we did was to try to get him back into treatment, and when it was clear he wouldn't do that, we notified the county prosecutor."
Don Schneider, a spokesman for St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, confirmed that his office had been contacted by the Davenport diocese's attorney about Wiebler. People in the prosecutor's office familiar with the situation said the contact had come "a few months ago."
The prosecutor's office then contacted the University City Police Department to let it know that Wiebler was now living in their neighborhood, according to Schneider.
No complaints filed
Wiebler would not have been required to register on the Missouri sex offender registry because he has not been convicted of any sexual crime.
Capt. Ernest Green of the University City police confirmed that a letter had been sent from the county prosecutor's office to inform police of Wiebler's arrival. Green said there had been no complaints filed against Wiebler.
Attorney Patrick Noaker of St. Paul, Minn., has several clients who say they were sexually abused by Wiebler when they were children. "They (the Davenport diocese) didn't tell anybody he'd left," he said. "And they made representations to us that he was (at St. John Vianney center) while they knew he was gone."
Noaker said that during a mediation meeting between one of his clients and the Davenport diocese Sept. 2, diocesan attorneys said the staff at the St. John Vianney center notified the diocese when Wiebler left. Wiebler's current neighbors say he's been living in the building in University City since at least early summer.
Lechner, the director of St. John Vianney, said it is the responsibility of the diocese and bishop where the priest comes from, not the treatment center, to know a problem priest's location in the community.
"The diocese has the final responsibility to make known the priest's whereabouts, to make it known if he's a danger," he said. "Unless a priest is laicized, he remains the responsibility of his bishop." Wonio said the bishop of Davenport, William E. Franklin, had formally requested that the Vatican laicize (or defrock) Wiebler, but that the Vatican had not yet responded.
In a written statement, the St. Louis Archdiocese said Wednesday that it had not heard of Wiebler until Friday, when it received a phone call from Loftus, the chancellor of the Davenport Diocese. According to the statement, the call was simply to inform church officials here that Wiebler was living in the archdiocese.
"The archdiocese is unfamiliar with (Wiebler's) background and has no jurisdiction over him," the statement reads, "particularly because his faculties - his rights to act as a priest - were taken away from him by Davenport."
Wiebler was a priest at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Bettendorf, Iowa, until 1985, when he moved to Mississippi until his retirement in 1991.
In 2002, Bishop Franklin sent Wiebler to the St. John Vianney center and issued what he called "the strongest canonical action possible at the time, which bound Father Wiebler with specific obligations."
Those obligations included "to continue treatment and to comply to the fullest extent with all those involved in his treatment program ... to refrain from all contact with minors ... to further avoid all places and situations that, from past experience, have been occasions of serious temptation in areas of sexual morality."
Noaker said four civil lawsuits are pending against Wiebler for child sexual abuse in Davenport between 1969 and 1973. Wiebler has never been charged with any crime, said Noaker, because the statute of limitations for criminal charges had run out for those who accused Wiebler of abuse. "We're scared he might be hurting kids down there," Noaker said.
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