Bishops Apologize for Priests' Conduct
They Address Parishes after Allegations Surface of Past Sexual Abuse

By Elizabethe Holland
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 4, 2002

While church services long have provided a place for community prayer and reflection, this weekend three area Catholic church services also became a setting for apologies.

Three members of the hierarchy of the Archdiocese of St. Louis addressed parishioners at the conclusion of Masses Saturday and Sunday at Our Lady of Sorrows Church and St. Cronan Church in St. Louis and Christ the King Church in University City.

On Saturday, the archdiocese announced the removal of the Rev. Michael Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows. On Wednesday, the Rev. Joseph D. Ross, pastor of St. Cronan Church and a former pastor at Christ the King, was removed. The priests were removed due to accusations that they sexually abused minors years ago. Archdiocesan officials have declined to discuss the details of the cases.

The priests' forced resignations, both of which came in the wake of a scandal involving dozens of priests in Boston, were to ensure compliance with a new, stricter policy in the archdiocese. The policy is that no priest with a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse is to be in a pastoral setting or a post that provides access to children.

At St. Cronan, 1203 South Boyle Avenue, Bishop Joseph Naumann addressed Ross' removal before parishioners. At Christ the King, 7324 Balson Avenue, the church from which Ross was abruptly yanked with no explanation some years ago, Monsignor Dennis Delaney addressed churchgoers, offering support to parishioners and apologizing for what had occurred.

And at Our Lady of Sorrows, Bishop Timothy M. Dolan took on perhaps the most difficult challenge of the three. Dolan, who one month ago took over the task of overseeing claims of sexual abuse for the archdiocese, read to parishioners a letter written by Campbell. Dolan, who lives in the church's rectory, told the congregation that Campbell was at the top of his list as a brother and a friend and that the two had talked several times the week before.

In the letter, Campbell acknowledged having done wrong. He wrote that for almost 13 years he had been haunted daily by the act, but that he cooperated with officials and then went on with his work.

"I've asked God's forgiveness, and with God's grace, I have continued my life as a priest," the letter said.

With God's help, the church's support and the prayers of parishioners, he hopes to continue his priestly mission in a different form, the letter continued.

"All I do is ask for your prayers," it closed.

As babies cried, children squirmed in the pews and adults cupped their mouths and stared ahead in deep concentration, Dolan told the parishioners, "I'm sorry this ever had to happen."

In defending Campbell, Dolan said "the inappropriateness he so owned up to" was not with a child and added that he trusts Campbell so much that he has and will continue to go to him for confession.

Dolan went on to say that priests were undergoing agonizing scrutiny and that it was going to get worse. But, he said, "The church will be resilient, her priests will be resilient. . . . We'll get through this. We will."

He then invited parishioners to the cafeteria to talk about what had occurred. He also invited them to a previously scheduled prayer service Tuesday night and a meeting Thursday night in which they could discuss what had transpired.

"I can't promise you answers," Dolan said, "but I can promise I'll listen."

After the service, Christine Portell of St. Louis called the letter moving and honest but didn't like the suggestion that the decision to rem ove Campbell was a result, in part, of the scandal the church has faced in Boston.

The archdiocese "is making a statement now when it should have been made 13 years ago, and I don't think this helps anything," Portell said. "If something happens . . . then it should come out at the time and be dealt with right then. The church is not above the law, and that's how it's been dealt with."

CORRECTION-DATE: March 5, 2002


Bishop Joseph F. Naumann did not address parishioners at St. Cronan Church after Masses on Saturday and Sunday as reported in this story. Instead, Naumann met with some parishioners earlier Saturday. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis provided the incorrect information.


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