Missouri, Illinois Laws Don't Require Clergy Members to Report Child Abuse
But Illinois, Missouri Prosecutors Say Cases Should Go to Court
By William C. Lhotka, Tim Bryant, Robert Goodrich, Trisha Howard, Tim Rowden And Valerie Schremp
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
March 10, 2002
Missouri and Illinois laws require people working in more than two dozen occupations to call authorities if they suspect child abuse, including sexual assaults.
The lists run from acupuncturists, podiatrists, dentists and chiropractors to teachers, day-care workers and jailers. They include people employed in church schools or nurseries, and Christian Science practitioners, who pray for healing.
But neither state's law includes clergymen.
Robert P. McCulloch, St. Louis County's prosecuting attorney, wishes they would make the calls anyway.
"I think anyone who has knowledge that a crime occurred should report it," McCulloch said in an interview last week. "To me, it's no different if it is a school and a student with a weapon, or a church institution. It should not be treated as an internal disciplinary matter."
Twenty-nine states have laws requiring the clergy to report allegations of child abuse, and Massachusetts may soon become the 30th. The Boston Globe has reported that the legislation is being rushed ahead in the aftermath of a scandal over pedophile priests. Allegations reported during a confession would be confidential.
Prosecutors in several St. Louis area jurisdictions said they anticipate that Roman Catholic Church leaders will be more amenable to taking molestation cases to the courts given revelations across the nation.
"I assume that, with their new attitude, these cases are going to be reported. I encourage them and any victim of any crime to report them to law enforcement," McCulloch said.
Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Bob Wilkins said it is a mistake for churches to try to handle accusations internally. "Doing so only gives perpetrators notice and time to cover their tracks," he warned.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, who already meets regularly with police sex crime detectives, said wrongdoing by priests "is a topic that will be considered at their next meeting."
Joyce said no city cases have been prosecuted in recent memory, but she may ask David Clohessy for details of crimes that might still be pursued. As national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Clohessy has been critical of what he considers a cover-up of sex abuse cases by the Catholic Church.
Credibility is an issue
Missouri prosecutors in the St. Louis area have taken the position that there is no statute of limitations on pursuing rape or sodomy cases.
Other sex-related crimes committed against children since Aug. 28, 1987, may be prosecuted, Joyce noted. That was when the Legislature extended a 10-year deadline to become 10 years from the victim's 18th birthday.
Illinois likewise allows charges up to 10 years after a victim turns 18.
But prosecutors warn that the older the case, the harder it is to get a conviction. Memories fade, and credibility can become more of an issue.
Credibility was an issue in the case of Brother Felix Bland.
In 1995, Bland, an ordained brother, pleaded guilty of six counts of statutory sodomy with an 11-year-old boy at Christian Brothers' LaSalle Institute in Wildwood, where Bland lived and volunteered to counsel troubled youths.
The assaults took place in 1988. Later, the boy lived at a juvenile facility in Ohio and reported the sexual abuse. Ohio made a hot line report in Missouri, but by then Bland was doing missionary work in Africa. When he eventually returned to Missouri, Bland applied to be a volunteer counselor in St. Charles County and the old hot line report triggered a police investigation.
Only after the victim wore a hidden microphone and met with Bland, who tried to coach him on what to say to police, did authorities conclude that they had enough evidence to prosecute.
McCulloch and assistant prosecutor Maura McShane, now a judge, recommended that Bland get 10 years in prison. Citing his age, then 63, and promises by Christian Brothers that Bland would be kept away from children, Judge Bernhardt C. Drumm Jr. sentenced him to one year in jail and five years of probation.
In Drumm's file was a letter from the father of five boys, then 5 to 18 years old, alleging that Bland had abused all of them either at the LaSalle Institute or the Lake of the Ozarks. The family filed a civil suit against Bland. Joseph A. Frank, their attorney, said Thursday that he co uld say only that the case "was resolved under confidential terms in 1997 on the eve of trial."
The county's sex offender list shows Bland is still living at the facility in Wildwood.
In at least three other cases in St. Louis County in the 1980s, priests were prosecuted. They are:
* Rev. Joseph Ross, who pleaded guilty of misdemeanor sex abuse in 1988 and was sentenced to two years of probation. Thereafter, his file was sealed. He was removed from his parish last week because of a stricter policy initiated by church officials.
* Rev. Victor A. Frobas, who pleaded guilty in 1988 of molesting teen-age boys and got a four-year prison sentence.
* Rev. James A. Funke, who pleaded guilty in 1987 of molesting two Bishop DuBourg High School students. Funke was sentenced to 10 years in prison by Judge William M. Corrigan. In denying probation, the judge said: "If these young men were women, we'd say you were a rapist. If you had sold them cocaine, we would say you had fried their brains. But what you h ave done if far more insidious. You have assaulted them; you have raped them; and you have fried their brains."
Court records in St. Louis Circuit Court show no criminal prosecutions of priests over the past 22 years, although at least 20 civil suits have been filed since 1994, most dealing with accusations dating back several years.
Wilkins, the Jefferson County prosecutor, said he knew of no incidents of child sexual abuse in recent years involving clergy. Likewise, Prosecuting Attorney Jack Banas of St. Charles County and State's Attorneys William R. Haine of Madison County and Robert Haida of St. Clair County.
A decade ago, Haida's office looked into allegations against priests in the Belleville Diocese but concluded that the legal deadline for prosecution then in effect had passed.
Haine said he had no indication that clergy of any denomination in his county had suppressed allegations of sexual abuse. "None of them that I know -- and I know many of all faiths -- they would never dream of crim inal activity or of being a party to not reporting criminal activity. They would never let evil go on to those in their charge."
Joyce, who prosecuted sex crimes before being elected circuit attorney, said, "There is a myth of what is called 'stranger danger' -- the guy wearing the raincoat at the playground. Most of the abuses are done by someone the child knows and trusts."
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