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  Warning from Advocates of Victims of Sex Abuse Angers Parishioners
Church Members Denounce Media and Man Accusing Priest of Molestation

By Peter Shinkle
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 11, 2002

The church steps after Mass - often a place for friendly greetings and farewells - became the scene of an ominous warning Sunday morning at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.

Under a blue sky and in a whipping wind, Steven Pona and seven members of a group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests thrust sharply worded fliers into the hands of parishioners leaving the church in the Soulard neighborhood.

"Attention all parents," the fliers said. "Priests can be child molesters. The Archdiocese of St. Louis has transferred priests accused of child molesting from one parish to another."

Pona claims that the Rev. Bruce Forman, the pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, sexually assaulted him in 1983, when Pona was 14 and was in a teen-age music group led by Forman. Pona, now 33, filed a suit making the allegations in 1992, but the case was dismissed after a judge ruled Pona had waited too long. An appeals court upheld the ruling.

Forman has denied the allegations. He was not in church Sunday and said in the church bulletin that he was with the music group, the Young Catholic Musicians.

Parishioners vigorously defended Forman, denouncing his accuser and the news media.

"This case has been tried and dismissed," said Bill Salzman, a parishioner at the church for 14 years. He also criticized a Post-Dispatch story on the case a week ago as "very biased," saying it gave too little space to Forman's side.

"I think we should be seeking love and not vengeance, if we are true Christians," he said.

Many people at Sunday's service refused to talk to a reporter, some with obvious anger in their voices. "You're on the wrong path," one man said.

Jim Howell, a parishioner for more than 10 years, said, "This has become somewhat of a witch hunt." His wife, Phyllis Howell, said many other churches have their own failings. "The Catholic Church is being hounded," she said.

Another parishioner, Lou Michael, dismissed Pona's claims as "bogus." He said Pona brought his claims because Forman dismissed Pona from the Young Catholic Musicians. He said he had heard that account from a secretary for the music group and others.

In 1983, Forman was the pastor at St. Michael's Church in Shrewsbury. Forman also was head of the Young Catholic Musicians, a group he founded in the early 1970s.

Pona claims that Forman assaulted him at least five times at a racquetball club. Pona also claims Forman took him to a drive-in movie theater, forced him to drink beer and tried to kiss him.

Pona rejected the claim that Forman had dismissed him from the Young Catholic Musicians, saying he quit because he didn't want to be around Forman.

The music group now has offices in a building across the street from Sts. Peter and Paul. In 1999, Forman said the group had 145 members, rangi ng in age from 10 to 20, from parishes across the St. Louis area.

Pona said distributing the leaflets Sunday was one way to help young people avoid the kind of abuse that he alleged in his lawsuit. The leaflet said: "Most priests deserve our respect but a few 'bad apples' can ruin the barrel."

CORRECTION-DATE: March 15, 2002

CORRECTION:

The position that the Rev. Bruce Forman held in 1983 with St. Michael's Church in Shrewsbury was incorrectly reported in this story. Forman was an associate pastor.

 
 

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