Latest allegations against St. Louis priest test the faithful Easter weeken
By Lilly Fowler And Jesse Bogan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
April 21, 2014
ST. LOUIS • The Roman Catholic Church was rocked by the clergy sex scandal in the United States more than a decade ago.
Church officials have been forced to acknowledge they moved known abusive priests from parish to parish, enabling them to claim even more victims. Tears have been shed and millions of dollars in settlements spent, along with vows that necessary reforms are in place to protect children.
And so over this Easter weekend in St. Louis, members of the region’s many Catholic parishes could be excused if they expressed both concern and fatigue as they faced news of the latest allegation of abuse by a young priest.
On Good Friday, criminal charges were brought against the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, 31, said to be a close friend of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, over allegations that Jiang sexually abused a young boy. The molestation is alleged to have taken place on two separate occasions at St. Louis the King School, the elementary school at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.
Police said the unnamed boy told detectives and a forensic interviewer that sometime between July 1, 2011, and August 1, 2012, Jiang molested him in the school’s bathroom. The archdiocese has suspended the priest from his duties while the case is investigated.
The criminal case is the second accusing Jiang. The first, in which the priest was accused of fondling a teenage girl from Lincoln County, was dismissed last year, though a civil lawsuit is still pending.
Jiang, who had been staying at St. Dominic Priory in the 3400 block of Lafayette Avenue, could not be reached for comment. Contacted there previously, he declined to be interviewed due to pending legal matters.
The timing of the latest allegations couldn’t have been worse as parishioners gathered to mark the holy weekend.
Among them was Kevin Ross, 55, who visited the cathedral on Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End Saturday to participate in an Easter Vigil.
“It’s horrible,” said Ross, a nurse in St. Louis. “There’s a wound that has to be repaired, and we’ll see how Archbishop Carlson will repair that wound.”
“If it was my child that would be a true test to the faith.”
Supporters of Jiang continue to stand by him.
“Everything I’ve heard is alleged. It’s so disconsonant with Father Joseph, so radically opposed to who he is,” said Bill Hannegan, who along with his wife, Lucy, founded Friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang, a group more than 100 members strong that formed in 2012 to support the priest.
“If I could bet everything I own on his total innocence, I would take the bet,” said Hannegan, noting he and his wife are like parents to the young priest. “I’m as certain as I could be about anything.”
“He’s not being treated fairly, and it’s clear that a lot of this is about money,” said Lucy, whom Jiang calls “mom.’’ She compared Jiang’s current situation to the arrest of Jesus before his crucifixion.
The couple said they’ve both spoken to Jiang by phone since he was released on $150,000 bail on Friday with the help of a supporter, though they said they did not know his specific whereabouts.
Jiang is said to be viewing his predicament through “a spiritual framework,” where looking back, “this will probably be the best Good Friday he’s had, offering his sufferings for priests and other souls,” the couple said in an email, noting that the pastor often speaks about enduring hardship for the good of others.
Others, however, have fresh doubts about how well the Catholic Church, and in particular, the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is handling the sexual abuse crisis that continues to haunt parishes.
“Just think of the odds, is it really possible that two kids who likely don’t know each other essentially made up the same lie,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Abuse cases against priests have often created these kinds of divisions.
But Jiang, many say, stands apart because of his ties to the top of the catholic leadership in St. Louis.
In fact, Archbishop Carlson’s personal ties to Jiang date back several years before he came to St. Louis.
CHRIST’S FACE ON EARTH
Jiang arrived in St. Louis in 2009, along with the newly installed archbishop. Originally from China, Jiang has been in Carlson’s care since he was a young seminarian.
Jiang had an impressive vocation story, one he was encouraged to share. Back home, his faith had been tested. He’d publicly spoken out against the Chinese government for appointing bishops in that country, rather than relinquishing control to Rome.
The Vatican apparently pulled Jiang out of China and assigned him to Carlson’s care. After following Carlson from Saginaw, Mich., to St. Louis, Jiang was ordained here in 2010 and was named associate pastor at the green-domed St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.
As a full-time priest, he soon made a name for himself for being particularly holy. He didn’t just officiate the Mass, parishioners said, he prayed it and meant it. As one admirer put it, Jiang was in awe of the privilege of being a priest, of being Christ’s face on Earth.
“Through Christ, the priest lifts up his parish family to God,” Jiang once wrote. “What a blessing and gift.”
He’d get down on a knee to talk to children at eye level and give a heartfelt blessing. At confession, he assured that God was love and mercy.
OUTSIDE THE PULPIT
Outside of the pulpit, however, trouble developed. Jiang was first arrested on allegations of molesting a teenage girl from Lincoln County in 2012. The two are said to have met when she was 15 and attending the cathedral with her family.
To coax her, Jiang bought her expensive gifts, according to court records. A witness is also said to have seen Jiang kissing the girl on the mouth and touching her in the parking lot of the church rectory, according to court documents.
Jiang later admitted to the parents and Carlson that the abuse took place and even left the family a check for $20,000 out of remorse, according to the civil lawsuit. Carlson allegedly responded by noting that he would remove Jiang only if the priest had had sex with the victim, according to the court documents.
Although a criminal case against Jiang was dismissed in 2013 because prosecutors could not show that the priest was ever the only one in the home with the girl, the civil lawsuit is still pending.
In the civil lawsuit, attorneys argue the archdiocese had warnings Jiang was dangerous. During the time that Jiang was getting close to the young girl, the priest reported to his superiors that he needed a reassignment because he was having personal problems, according to documents.
Ken Chackes, an attorney representing the Lincoln County family in the civil lawsuit, also says Jiang was in the home of the family plenty, and could have molested the victim while others were elsewhere in the house.
The archdiocese has argued in court that the civil case should be dismissed, partly on the grounds that the alleged actions occurred away from church property.
In the latest case, the archdiocese issued a statement Friday saying that the family of the boy reported the alleged abuse through the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline. The statement also seemed to raise questions about the second accuser and his family.
The family “over the past year has been pursuing a claim against the archdiocese related to their child being bullied by other students. The family had never claimed that their child was abused by a priest until this week,” the archdiocese said.
Aside from the investigation and civil lawsuit, however, it is unclear how or why Jiang became assigned to Carlson’s care about a decade ago.
There were high expectations for Jiang, who used to reside in the same residence as Carlson, according to court filings.
It’s unclear where his priestly duties were heading. One Catholic leader said he was supposed to go to Rome next and become a diplomat for the Vatican. Though still small, China’s Catholic flock of some 13 million people is growing and there are still challenges there regarding allegiance to the pope and his hierarchy of bishops.
According to Hannegan, Jiang has spent the last months translating into Chinese the autobiography of St. Therese the Little Flower – a popular saint who became a Carmelite nun at an early age.
Sister Superior Mary Catherine Smith, of The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters at Mount Grace Convent, a cloistered community in north St. Louis, knows Jiang personally. She says despite the new allegations, she still stands by him.
“We are behind Father Joseph 100 percent,” Smith said. “There’s no way he could have done this.”
“We know that he is innocent, and we’re sticking by him.”