Allegations in Lawsuit Shock Vianney Students, Staff
By Robbi Courtaway
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 1, 2006
As normal daily activities proceed at St. John Vianney High School, allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Robert Osborne hang in the shadows.
At a basketball game Feb. 24 between Vianney and Lindbergh High School, for instance, a Lindbergh student made a crack about the school's president, who has temporarily stepped down in the wake of a "John Doe" lawsuit filed against him Feb. 21.
"There was no retaliation from our side," school senior Jeremy Kuppinger said. "I know there weren't any problems."
Kuppinger described Osborne as an outgoing administrator who says hello to students in the halls.
"He's a really nice guy, and he's really smart," Kuppinger said. "He's always giving us new vocabulary words to look up."
A majority at the school believes Osborne is not guilty of the suit's charges that he "sexually, physically and emotionally" abused a student, said John Brightman, a senior at the school.
"But you can't say for sure," Brightman said. "You can't make any assumptions."
In addition to the suit, filed against Osborne, Vianney and the Marianist Province, two complaints of "inappropriate behavior" by Osborne have been filed with the Kirkwood Police Department, which continues its investigation. The popular priest denies the allegations. In the view of many, he has been found guilty before being proved innocent and faces a lengthy battle to clear his name.
Ken Chackes, the attorney for the father and son who filed the suit, said a civil trial could be months or a year away. Until the charges have been investigated and resolved, Osborne may not preside at liturgical or other functions, or administer sacraments in a public forum, according to the policies of the Marianist Province of the United States, spokeswoman Diane Guerra said.
"He has many friends and supporters," Guerra said. "The province wants to make sure that we let everyone be heard and let the legal system work through the appropriate channels."
Victor L. Ottenlips Sr., the first lay chair of Vianney's Board of Education from 1986 to 1990, agreed. He served on the board with Osborne, then in provincial administration for the St. Louis Province of the Marianists.
"He was certainly, at that time, a very fine gentleman, and I have a very difficult time understanding how he could change so much in such a short period of time," Ottenlips said. "I would say that the charges have to be really proven, because he has been a real asset for the school."
Chackes said his clients filed the first complaint with Kirkwood police. He said he is unfamiliar with the student who filed the second complaint. He also confirmed a report that the father of the boy he is representing had filed a lawsuit a few years earlier against the boy's mother alleging sexual abuse. The mother is serving time in prison on a related criminal case, he said.
"Almost, I'd say, probably all of the clergy who have been sexually abusing children are very well-liked and well-trusted individuals," he said. "Sadly, that's how they are able to get close to their victims."
In a letter posted on the Vianney Web site, Osborne calls the allegations "completely unfounded."
"I ask all of you to please pray for me and Vianney High School," he wrote.
Osborne took his first vows with the Marianist Province in 1955 and was ordained a priest in 1966. He has served as a teacher, parish priest and administrator, and has served as president of Vianney since 2002.
Last fall, Osborne dealt directly with the publicity over a $20 million lawsuit filed against a former teacher at Vianney, Brother William Mueller.
"I want to close by telling you the same thing that I told the student body and the alumni," Osborne wrote in a letter to parents in the November 2005 'Griffin Notes.' "Every faculty member, staff member, cafe worker, part-time coach and administrator has successfully completed the Protecting God's Children workshop. Police have checked the records of all new hires and fingerprinted them. The safety of your sons is paramount."
Brightman noted that Osborne came to the school at the same time as his own freshman class.
"He won't be at our graduation," Brightman said. "That'll be upsetting for a lot of people."
You can contact Robbi Courtaway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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