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  No Current Local Child Abuse Cases, Diocese Says
Report Says Leonard Chambers Was Among Three Priests Removed from Roles since 1984

By Leicht Linda
Springfield News-Leader
March 18, 2002

Catholics in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese were assured Sunday that there are no accusations of sexual abuse of minors before diocese officials, but Bishop John Leibrecht acknowledged in a letter read by parish priests to their congregations that there have been three such cases since 1984.

The Boston Globe reported in this morning's edition that one of the three local cases is the Rev. Leonard R. Chambers, who was accused in 1981 of molesting a teen-age boy at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, where Chambers was serving as priest.

According to the Boston Globe report, Cardinal Bernard Law, then bishop of the Springfield diocese, removed the 44-year-old Chambers and sent him to a psychiatric center for Catholic priests in Jemez Springs, N.M., where he spent 10 months in treatment.

Chambers was then assigned as pastor at Sacred Heart in Salem without any restrictions on his access to children, report said. A year later, he was moved to St. Mary's in Pierce City, and a year after that, to Our Lady of the Cove in Kimberling City. He ultimately was shuttled to eight parishes in the diocese.

Quoting Monsignor Thomas Reidy, vicar general of the Springfield diocese, the Globe reported that Bishop John Leibrecht, who took over the diocese from Law in 1984, placed restrictions on Chambers that barred him from being alone with any minor in the mid-1990s.

In 1998, Leibrecht ordered Chambers' retirement after a complaint that the priest had "been acting strangely" toward a boy. Chambers later acknowledged he had been alone with the boy but denied he had done anything inappropriate, according to the Globe report.

Leibrecht, who was in meetings in Cape Girardeau, was unavailable for comment Sunday.

Marilyn Vydra, spokeswoman for the diocese, confirmed that Chambers was one of the three cases mentioned in Leibrecht's letter.

In the letter, Leibrecht wrote that three priests "no longer have faculties for priestly ministry because of their inappropriate behavior with minors." The priests were not named.

None of the cases resulted in lawsuits, Vydra said.

"The victims mainly asked that the priests be removed from ministry," she said. No additional details about the cases were released.

Allegations jolt church

Nationally, the church has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Vydra said Leibrecht's letter is part of a nationwide effort to confront growing concerns over priests who have abused minors.

"The dioceses across the United States are doing this kind of thing," she said.

The issue of pedophilia will also be on the agenda of the June meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, said Vydra.

In his letter, Leibrecht asked parishioners to pray for the victims of sexual abuse, "especially those abused by clergy," and for their families and the Catholic community. He also asked for prayers for priests.

"They need your grateful support and mine," he wrote. "They are embarrassed and suffer from the behavior of brothers with whom they have labored. Do not let the actions of a very few priests affect your respect, appreciation and affection for the priests among you."

"I thought the letter was very courageous and very much to the point," said John Platcher of Springfield, who attended Mass at St. Agnes Cathedral on Sunday night.

Anna Jedrzejewski said she was concerned about the "media focus" on priests who have sexually abused minors.

"Priests sacrifice their lives for others," she said.

A native of Poland, Jedrzejewski arrived in Springfield 20 years ago, when Bernard Law was bishop here. Law, now a cardinal and archbishop of Boston, has been the focus of media attention because of a number of cases of clergy sexual abuse there.

"I remember Bishop Law. He was just great, a man I have respect for," she said. Law helped her and her husband find jobs, she said. "I will always remember that."

Law, now bishop of the Boston archdiocese, has come under fire for his handling of sexual abuse cases among Boston priests. One priest, John Geoghan, was defrocked in 1998 and was convicted in January of assault of a 10-year-old boy. He faces two more charges and is named in 84 lawsuits.

Some people have called for Law's resignation because he allowed Geoghan and other priests accused of abuse to move from parish to parish despite the complaints.

Despite the negative publicity and the spotlight on priests, Vydra said the events have opened communication.

"I really see good come out of this," she said. "There is an openness that has not been present before."

 
 

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