FBI Agents Seize Pastor's Computer in Investigation of Child Pornography
Rigali Says Priest Has Left Most Sacred Heart Parish in Florissant
By Patricia Rice and Norm Parish
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 8, 2002
As part of a child pornography investigation, FBI agents seized the pastor's computer at the rectory of Most Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florissant, the St. Louis Archdiocese confirmed Thursday.
FBI agents, accompanied Wednesday morning by a Florissant police officer, seized a computer belonging to the Rev. John Hess, archdiocese officials said.
No one was arrested. Hess could not be reached for comment.
The FBI officials, who are working with the U.S. attorney's office, would not provide further details. Florissant Police Chief Steve Kruse said one of his officers accompanied the FBI, but he refused to comment further about the case.
St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali said he was "shocked and saddened" by the report.
"I am stunned by the report that authorities have seized the computer of Father John Hess," Rigali said in a statement released Thursday. "Father Hess has left the parish, and I encourage him to cooperate fully in the investigation."
Rigali said he has appointed the Rev. Edward Stanger as temporary administrator of Most Sacred Heart. Stanger was serving at Queen of All Saints Parish in the Oakville area. Last year, Stanger filled in as administrator of St. Margaret of Scotland Parish in St. Louis' Tower Grove neighborhood.
Terry Edelmann, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said church officials were still trying to determine the extent of the investigation.
"We are trying to find out what happened," Edelmann said. "This is a very hard time for everyone. We are very troubled and sad."
Last week, the archdiocese dismissed two priests - the Rev. Joseph D. Ross, pastor of St. Cronan Catholic Church, and the Rev. Michael A. Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church.
The priests were removed after past allegations of sexual abuse. Ross pleaded guilty in 1988 of sexually abusing a boy, 11, during confession at Christ the King Church. Ross was removed from the church, attended seven months of therapy and in 1991 was placed in St. Cronan. Neither parish was told of his conviction.
Throughout much of Florissant - from the front doors of the Most Sacred Heart Catholic Church to a historic two-chair barber shop to a flower shop - many Catholics said their hearts ached from the recent news reports.
"It's upsetting to hear anything negative about something you care about," said Sacred Heart Parish member Patty Dooley Sosa, 40, the second generation of her family to run the 36-year-old Dooley's Florist and Gifts in the shadow of the church's two copper steeples. Two of her children attend the parish school.
"I only wish we could get the full facts, now," she said. "But eventually (with the) FBI investigating, I am sure the parish will let us know."
Florissant Mayor Robert Lowery said rumors filled with "tremendous misinformation" about the raid were circulating about the town. He wanted to put to rest many of the wildest ones, he said.
"There are absolutely no allegations that anyone touched or even said anything (inappropriate) to a child," said Lowery, a former Florissant police chief and former head of the St. Louis Area Major Case Squad.
Lowery said the pastor's computer was in a public area of the rectory. Many volunteers and people attending meetings have access to those areas, parishioners said. Some parishioners said they were glad that the investigation was public.
"This type of thing happens, but if you don't talk about it, if you put a gag order out, it's harder to stop," said Jason Loftus, 34, as he picked up the youngest of his five children at kindergarten at Sacred Heart.
The archdiocese's dismissal of the two pastors last week and its request that people report any abuse in the past could help clean out priests who have hurt Catholics and harmed the Catholic Church for too long, Loftus said.
"The people are the church," he said, not bishops and priests.
At the Magic Razor, a two-chair barber shop founded in 1876 when haircuts were 15 cents, barbers Mack Prince and Cleve Noles said they got an earful this week.
At least half of their customers are members of Sacred Heart Parish. Earlier in the week, customers talked with concern about allegations against the Rev. Leroy Valentine, an associate pastor of another Florissant church, St. Thomas the Apostle, accused of sexually molesting a child.
"The parish has fine people and one of the best schools in North County," Prince said. "This is a shame."
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