Rigali Says Abuse Is Intolerable (2 of 2 articles)
Priest Resigns, Another Is Removed over Allegations
Former Altar Boy Steps Forward
By Jeremy Kohler and Dawn Fallik
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 28, 2002
The St. Louis Archdiocese said Wednesday that a Catholic priest in Florissant has resigned after a new allegation of child sexual abuse, and a second priest in St. Louis has been removed from his parish after an accusation of inappropriate behavior with a child.
The Rev. Leroy A. Valentine resigned as associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Florissant when the archdiocese learned of a new charge of sexual abuse of a minor "from many years ago," the archdiocese said.
In a letter to parishioners dated Monday, Valentine said that he was innocent.
"At this time I have come to the decision that it is in the best interest of our parish family, of the Archdiocese, and for my own personal well-being that I end my service at St. Thomas," he wrote. He said he will take "some time away for rest and for prayer. For what happens after that, I place my trust in the Lord."
Archdiocesan spokeswoman Terry Edelmann said Valentine resigned during a meeting with archdiocese officials investigating the new allegation, which she declined to discuss.
On Wednesday, a former altar boy who served in Valentine's parish alleged in an interview with the Post-Dispatch that Valentine molested him in 1978 while taking his confession at Immacolata Church in Richmond Heights. He was 8 at the time.
The former altar boy, now 32, said he told the archdiocese of the alleged abuse last week. He has hired the St. Paul, Minn., law firm that has filed a federal anti-racketeering lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church.
"I was molested during the first sacrament I ever received," alleged the man, who spoke under the condition that he not be identified. He claimed Valentine put him on his lap and put his hands in his pants.
"I just clenched up in a ball until he stopped," the man said. "It affected my whole childhood. . . . I wanted to believe it didn't happen."
Valentine could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Edelmann could not confirm whether the allegations by the former altar boy had triggered the priest's resignation.
Valentine was previously accused of sexually molesting three brothers 20 years ago at a different parish. In a secret settlement four years ago, the archdiocese paid the brothers to settle a suit that accused Valentine of the assaults. One of the brothers, John Scorfina, went public this month after learning Valentine was still working near children.
"I'm elated to know he won't be around children," Scorfina said Wednesday. "It makes my world a little happier place."
Also on Wednesday, the archdiocese placed the Rev. Gary P. Wolken on leave after learning of an allegation he had "inappropriate contact with a minor." The allegation is not related to any work at his current parish, Our Lady of the Sorrows in St. Louis, the church said.
The action against Wolken also came after archdiocesan officials met with Wolken to discuss the allegation, Edelmann said.
Edelmann would not elaborate on the charges - or Wolken's response to them - other than that he is cooperating with authorities. The archdiocese has turned the allegation over to the Missouri Division of Family Services for investigation.
Wolken is the second priest the archdiocese has removed from the St. Louis church. The Rev. Michael Campbell, pastor of the church, was removed March 2 as a result of an archdiocesan review of allegations of past sexual abuse.
In a letter to parishioners, Wolken, 36, said he is cooperating with state investigators.
"Sadly I write you about a very difficult matter, but I owe it to you to be honest," the letter read. "An allegation has been made against me of inappropriate behavior with a minor."
The letter did not detail the incident and, as of Wednesday, no court case had been filed in civil court concerning Wolken. A message at the St. Louis Department of Family Services was not immediately returned.
Neal Collins, picking up his son from Our Lady of Sorrows' school Wednesday, said Wolken baptized the boy, now 9. The school is one of the largest Catholic schools in the St. Louis area, with more than 500 students from kindergarten through middle school.
Collins said he spoke to his son about the priest's removal.
"I told my son he could still be friends with the father, and still write to him, but that he couldn't see him anymore," Collins said.
Francis Leisure, another member of the parish, said the church was still trying to deal with Campbell's removal, and worried about what the latest revelation might mean for the parish.
Wolken, he said, is a "very warm, very sincere man."
"Now is the time when we really need to rely on our faith and continue healing," he said.
Wednesday's actions mean that the St. Louis Archdiocese has removed three priests and accepted the resignation of a fourth in the last month as revelations of sexual abuse by priests in Boston prompted the church to take a new look at old allegations of abuse here. In addition to Valentine, Wolken and Campbell, the archdiocese removed the Rev. Joseph Ross of St. Cronin Church in St. Louis.
A fifth priest, the Rev. John Hess of Sacred Heart in Florissant, was temporarily removed after his computer was confiscated as part of a federal investigation of child pornography.
A stricter policy the archdiocese enacted this month mandates the removal of priests who are accused of sexual abuse. Under the policy, priests with a substantiated record of child sexual abuse will not be allowed to serve in a pastoral setting or a post that provides access to children.
This week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said more than 30 people have responded to her public appeal for information about possible cases of sexual abuse by current or former Catholic priests.
Joyce made her appeal last week after meeting with St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali. Joyce said afterward that she did not plan to ask Rigali to release any files the archdiocese may have on allegations of abuse.
The archdiocese serves about 555,000 Catholics. It is the nation's third-oldest and one of the largest.
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