St. Louis Archdiocese Reveals That 115 Employees Have Been Accused of Sexual Abuse over Three Decades
By Doug Moore
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 3, 2014
Basilica.jpg Morning sunlight bathes the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis early on Jan. 24, 2013. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford firstname.lastname@example.org
A court filing by the Archdiocese of St. Louis released Friday revealed that 115 employees have been accused of abuse over the last three decades.
The revelation came as the archdiocese succeeded in delaying a judge’s order that the church hand over the names of priests accused of sexual abuse in the past 20 years.
Deep in a court filing of about 400 pages, an exhibit marked “confidential” lists 234 complaints against archdiocese employees dating to 1986. The accusers are identified only by numbers.
The 115 church employees who are targets of the complaints also are referred to by numbers. Some employees, such as No. 1, had one complaint; others had several. Two employees had the most, with 15. The filing doesn’t identify the employees’ positions within the archdiocese.
The archdiocese did not respond directly to the newly disclosed number in a brief statement released to the Post-Dispatch by spokeswoman Angie Shelton.
“The Archdiocese will continue to work within the judicial process toward a resolution to this lawsuit which is rooted in the truth and fairness to all involved,” Shelton wrote in an email.
In the documents filed Thursday evening as part of its appeal and released Friday, the archdiocese marked 40 of the cases “unsubstantiated.”
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group, said 115 was more than double the number of previously known alleged abusers in the archdiocese.
And David Clohessy, director of SNAP, said the continued attempts to withhold the names of priests showed that Archbishop Robert Carlson was not serious about the Roman Catholic Church’s promises of reform.
“It’s disgusting that Carlson talks reform but practices secrecy,” Clohessy said. “It’s very disingenuous to pretend his concern is for victims’ feelings when, like his predecessors, he uses every legal hardball maneuver to fight victims in court.”
The latest court action is part of a civil suit filed against Joseph Ross, the first priest defrocked in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The suit also names Carlson and the archdiocese. It was filed in 2011 by a 19-year-old woman. She says Ross began abusing her 16 years ago at St. Cronan’s Church in the city’s Forest Park Southeast neighborhood.
The woman, known only as Jane Doe, and her attorneys had sought the names of all priests in the archdiocese accused of sexual abuse in the past 40 years. A judge eventually reduced it to 20 years.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker had ordered the archdiocese to turn over the names of both the priests and the accusers by the end of the working day Friday.
The archdiocese asked the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District to intervene, and within a few hours of Dierker’s deadline, the appeals court ordered Dierker to back down.
“You are ordered to refrain from all action in this case until further notice,” states the order signed by Court of Appeals Judge Glenn A. Norton.
The woman wants to show in her case that there was a pattern by the archdiocese of covering up abuse claims and that church leaders knew that failing to disclose past problems could cause new ones.
Ross had been convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy at a parish in University City decades ago.
Ross was sent away for treatment, then reassigned to St. Cronan’s, where he allegedly abused the woman from 1997 to 2001.
Attorneys for the archdiocese argued in their appeal that the information Jane Doe’s attorneys are seeking is “confidential material” and that releasing the names of the accusers “will be harmful to them” based on “unrebutted evidence from expert medical professions” (sic).
Dierker’s order states that the names of the priests and victims would be under seal, given only to the woman and her attorneys to proceed with their case. One of her attorneys, Kenneth Chackes, stressed earlier this week that if the case went to trial, the names of those who filed complaints would not be made public.
Dierker’s order also stressed that neither the plaintiff nor her attorney could directly contact those who filed the complaints. A court-appointed attorney would make the initial contact to see whether victims wanted to cooperate in the case.
Chackes called the archdiocese’s strategy ironic.
“The archdiocese is now arguing for the prevention of harm of the victims of sexual abuse when they had the opportunity to prevent harm by not assigning dangerous priests to another parish after they had abused children in the past,” Chackes said.
Chackes and the other attorneys representing the plaintiff have until Wednesday to respond to the stay issued by the appeals court. The trial date is Feb. 24.
The archdiocese argued in asking for the order, known as a writ of prohibition, that Dierker overstepped his bounds. Specifically, the church argued that the circuit judge’s order seeking the names of those who filed complaints “is pure error and a clear abuse of discretion, exceeds his jurisdiction, and works immediate and irreparable harm.”
Dierker limited his comment Friday to “I just do what my superiors tell me to do.”
It was a much more subdued response than what Dierker wrote in his order issued on Tuesday, when he stated that “the dogged refusal of defendant Archdiocese to comply with the Court’s order ... borders on if not actually amounting to contempt.”
In the archdiocese statement on Friday, Shelton said that Dierker’s order “clearly shows that these are very complicated issues.”