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  Priest Answers Sex Abuse Complaint

By Robert Goodrich
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
August 18, 1994

The Rev. Louis Peterson, who voluntarily stepped down as pastor of St. Teresa Parish in Belleville after he was accused of sexually abusing a child, said Wednesday that he was the victim of a vindictive parent.

"To tell the entire story would take a book, but the mother of the alleged victim was already most perturbed because we would not hire her as a substitute teacher," says a four-page statement Peterson released Wednesday.

"When we took the additional steps of halting her services as a volunteer during school hours, would not meet with her alone without someone else being present as a witness and rejected her self-submitted nomination to serve on our School Board, she became even more vindictive."

The mother, reached Wednesday night, had no comment on Peterson's statement.

Peterson said the youth's mother claims she first was made aware of the alleged abuse in August of last year. But, he said, she did not mention it then or at a School Board meeting she attended soon thereafter.

"Only after (a request by the mother) was refused did she appear the next day at the diocese with the allegation," the priest said.

Authorities looked into the allegations against Peterson at the request of St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert B. Haida, who announced on Feb. 25 that no criminal charge would be lodged without more evidence.

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

Peterson said stress and anxiety caused by the investigation had caused him to take leave, starting Jan. 22.

"I firmly believe this child is telling the truth," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, the national director of SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"It sounds like a fairly desperate move. Accused priests can defend themselves without attacking the victims," Clohessy said.

The matter was investigated by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, but Peterson said the agency's official report contains contradictions. "These include the number of times the alleged abuse took place, when it supposedly occurred and what allegedly happened," he wrote.

"I can only state emphatically that if he has been abused, I am not the one who abused him," Peterson said. He called for continued investigation to "find who the real perpetrator is."

The Belleville Diocese has 110 priests and 124,000 members in 128 parishes.

Peterson is one of nine priests and a deacon in the diocese who have been accused of sexual misconduct. The diocese removed eight priests and the deacon from their jobs. Only Peterson left voluntarily.

Parishioners responded with disbelief and an outpouring of support, decorating their church, trees outside the building and even their cars with yellow ribbons.

 
 

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