Priest Won't Be Charged; Evidence Lacking in Claim of Abuse, Prosecutor Says

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
February 26, 1994

No charges will be filed against a Roman Catholic priest who voluntarily left his parish in Belleville while under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct, the prosecutor in St. Clair County said Friday.

The Rev. Louis Peterson, on leave as pastor of St. Teresa Catholic Church at 1201 Lebanon Avenue in Belleville, was cleared of any criminal conduct by the office of State's Attorney Robert Haida.

"After a lengthy investigation, there is insufficient evidence to prove a criminal charge or charges beyond a reasonable doubt," Haida said in a statement.

"In the event that additional and relevant evidence is brought forth, the matter will be reconsidered," the brief statement added. Haida was unavailable for comment.

Peterson said in a statement last month that the stress and anxiety caused by the investigation had prompted him to take a leave, but he denied the allegations against him.

Authorities said the allegations involved reports of sexual abuse of a teen-age boy within the last two years.

Peterson also was unavailable Friday, but some at his parish said he was eager to return to work.

"I know he will return," said Deacon Al DuBois, an associate minister at St. Teresa. "It's the people who have spoken, and they want him back."

Paula Kaltenbronn, a parishioner, noted that yellow ribbons and balloons had been tied to the doors of the church as signs of support for Peterson. "We're elated," she said. "We were always behind him 100 percent. There was never a doubt in our minds of his innocence. He's a very warm, caring person."

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of the Belleville Catholic Diocese issued a brief statement saying that church officials would consider the state's attorney's actions in making a recommendation about Peterson's future. Gregory was unavailable for elaboration.

The Rev. Kenneth J. York was appointed temporary administrator at St. Teresa after Peterson stepped down. DuBois said York wanted to return to other diocesan work and would welcome Peterson's return.

David Clohessy of the St. Louis chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said of Haida's action: "I think it would be a real mistake for people to gloat and say this is proof that Peterson is innocent."


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