Jefferson City Diocese Settles Priest Abuse Case

By Alan Scher Zagier
The Associated Press, carried in The Kansas City Star
June 6, 2006

COLUMBIA, Mo. - The Roman Catholic Diocese of Jefferson City agreed to pay more than $60,000 to a man who accused a former mid-Missouri priest of sexual abuse.

The settlement stems from an accusation against the Rev. John Degnan, 81, who retired in 2001. His 40 years of service with the diocese included assignments in Chouteau Springs, Dixon, Gravois Mills, Linn, Saint Elizabeth, Saint Thomas, Versailles, Boonville, Montgomery City, Pilot Grove and Westphalia.

The settlement was reached in October 2005 but only publicly disclosed last week by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims' advocacy group. National director David Clohessy, of St. Louis, criticized the diocese for not sharing the agreement with parishioners.

"America's bishops claim they'll now be open and transparent with abuse cases," he said, a reference to church reforms implemented after widespread reports of sex abuse by priests first emerged four years ago. "Yet they rarely disclose anything unless prodded by prosecutors, victims or the media."

In a written statement, a diocese spokesman responded that while the settlement's terms were not confidential, the diocese did not publicize the agreement to protect the accuser's privacy.

A copy of the settlement released by SNAP shows the complainant received an initial payment of $5,000, followed by monthly payments of $975 starting in February and lasting for five years.

In 2001, Degnan was accused of sexually abusing of a boy in the 1960s. Additional allegations emerged in 2002, when Degnan was placed in a supervised residential treatment center for troubled priests run by the St. Louis Archdiocese.

When further abuse complaints against Degnan surfaced in February 2005, priests representing Bishop John Gaydos visited four churches in Boonville, Pilot Grove, Montgomery City and Westphalia with parishioners who had accused Degnan of abuse or their family members.

Degnan, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, was pastor in the 1960s of a rural mid-Missouri parish that has since closed, but many of its members moved to parishes in Pilot Grove and Boonville.

The diocese at the time encouraged other potential victims to come forward, the latest church statement pointed out.

A church official told The Associated Press last year that 12 alleged victims of Degnan contacted the diocese. SNAP said last year that the figure was higher, with formal complaints lodged by 17 people against Degnan. Clohessy now suggests the actual number of victims could be as high as 50.

According to SNAP, Degnan also worked at church-run counseling centers in Camdenton and Lebanon.


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