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  Priest Accused of Abuse Still Works with Youths
Diocese Vows Action Aide Says Cleric to Comply

By Brooks Egerton
Dallas Morning News
November 13, 1998

A nationally known priest accused of sexual abuse has defied orders to end his public ministry and not work with young people, a Dallas Morning News investigation shows.

Dallas Catholic Diocese officials acknowledged the findings and vowed swift action against the Rev. Kenneth Roberts, an author and multimedia evangelist who has built an extensive Internet presence and last year started an online club for young Catholics contemplating religious careers. He also has been moderating a Catholic discussion group for America Online and hosting radio and TV programs.

Dallas Bishop Charles V. Grahmann has demanded that Father Roberts stop his Internet, TV and radio work immediately, diocesan spokeswoman Lisa LeMaster said. She said the diocese is checking reports that he has celebrated public Masses.

If the reports are verified, "a suspension could come as early as Friday," Ms. LeMaster said Thursday evening. That would turn restrictions on his work, implemented in the mid-1990s, into a ban on exercising any priestly powers.

Father Roberts, 68, declined to comment, saying by e-mail that he was suffering from a high blood pressure attack. His spokeswoman, Ann Waters, said he had not knowingly violated diocesan orders and earlier ended his far-reaching public speaking career when told to.

"He desperately wants to serve the church," she said. "He'll be obedient."

Ms. Waters said that Father Roberts denies sexual misconduct allegations made against him in the last decade by people in the St. Louis and Peoria, Ill., areas. He can't confirm or deny molestation allegations that date to his late-1960s pastoral work in the Dallas area, she said, because he suffered from alcohol-related blackouts and "temporary amnesia" then.

Dallas diocesan officials acknowledge making payments to two of Father Roberts' male accusers. None of the allegations has resulted in civil or criminal charges.

Father Roberts has been a Dallas diocesan priest since ordination in 1966 but has operated, often unsupervised, from a suburban St. Louis base for most of the time since then.

He was forced out of Fort Worth and Garland parishes in the late 1960s and went to St. Louis for psychiatric treatment, former parishioners said.

Father Roberts has been a shining light to conservative Catholics around the country, some of whom have seen the church's pedophilia crisis as the result of liberalism and lack of obedience to the Vatican. The priest's latest book, 1997's Nobody Calls It Sin Anymore , urges readers to resist the devil with a back-to-basics obedience of the Ten Commandments.

News that he has been accused of abuse "is going to be earth-shattering to a lot of people," said Stephen Brady, president of a national group of orthodox Catholics called Roman Catholic Faithful.

The group recently announced a campaign - named for St. Maria Goretti, a girl canonized after a rapist killed her - to pressure U.S. bishops to disclose all abuse claims they've settled.

Father Roberts has become well known for publicizing the Bosnian community of Medjugorje, where pilgrims have flocked for years since some children reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. He has produced audiotapes, videotapes, books and magazine articles toward this end and has served as spiritual leader to pilgrims visiting Medjugorje.

The Dallas Diocese says it has not contacted the various outlets associated with Father Roberts' work.

The diocese says it made its first payment to a Roberts accuser in 1994, providing $ 8,900 for therapeutic expenses to someone in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Officials would not discuss details of that case.

After that payment, diocesan officials recalled Father Roberts from St. Louis and had him help out at Holy Family Catholic Church in Irving - his first parish post in two decades. He was ordered to get permission for all public speaking engagements and not to work with adolescents or men younger than 30.

Several months later, in late 1995, Bishop Grahmann granted Father Roberts a medical retirement and further restricted his faculties. He was told to end all public ministry, not to say Mass in public and not to administer the sacraments except in emergencies, diocesan officials say.

That action came after a complaint by Stuart Douglass, who had been an altar boy for Father Roberts at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Fort Worth. Earlier this year, Mr. Douglass received a $ 30,000 out-of-court settlement from the Dallas Diocese, which included Fort Worth parishes during Father Roberts' tenure there.

Church officials in Dallas said they made no payment in connection with a third abuse allegation, which dates to 1989 and the Diocese of Peoria. Parishioners said Father Roberts spoke to Catholic high school students there at the time.

Father Roberts, a native of England, was abused as a child by a caretaker, his spokeswoman said. He worked as an airline and ship steward before training for the priesthood.

His connection to the Dallas diocese began on board the Queen Elizabeth, where a passenger named Thomas Gorman - the late bishop of Dallas - gave him encouragement. Later, the bishop agreed to sponsor him in seminary training.

Father Roberts spent about a year at his first parish job, in Fort Worth. Mr. Douglass said he took him and other junior high-age boys on various outings, including a camping trip complete with beer, and molested him for months.

Mr. Douglass said his mother knew he was uncomfortable about something, but he couldn't bring himself to explain: "I didn't know what to say, and who would believe me anyway? I was a kid."

Mr. Douglass said he ultimately showed his mother a pornographic movie theater he had visited with Father Roberts. She complained to another priest, and Father Roberts was transferred to Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Garland.

"The kids loved him so much that we couldn't find anything wrong with him," said former Garland parishioner Bob Striler. He and other members of his family said they saw no evidence of sexual misconduct.

But something happened - church officials would never say what, Mr. Striler said - and Father Roberts was removed from his assistant pastor's job within a year. That silence led the Strilers to leave the Catholic Church.

Today, Mr. Striler urges Catholic leaders to come clean on the subject of clergy abuse. Otherwise, he said, "the church is going to fall apart, piece by piece, million-dollar settlement by million-dollar settlement."

 
 

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