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  State Reassigns Ex-Priest Suspected of Sexual Misconduct with Minors
Now a Social Worker, He Has Been Investigating Reports of Elder Abuse

By Greg Jonsson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 28, 2002

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will reassign a St. Louis social worker to an office job while authorities look into allegations that he sexually abused several children when he was a priest in Illinois more than 20 years ago.

Officials at the agency said they had been unaware when they hired Lawrence Gibbs as a social worker of allegations that Gibbs abused boys at three different churches in suburban Chicago and the Joliet, Ill., area in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Gibbs, who moved to St. Louis after leaving the priesthood, will be taken off his duties as an elderly abuse complaint investigator while the allegations are investigated, officials said. Gibbs has never been charged with a crime.

He and his wife declined to comment and referred reporters to his Chicago attorney, Robert Novelle Sr., who could not be reached for comment.

Gibbs married and had three children after leaving the priesthood, his wife told the Chicago Tribune on Friday.

The allegations became public in documents unsealed last week by a judge in Will County in northern Illinois.

"We're going to try to get a hold of any information on this and see if we have any concerns," said Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The court documents indicate that Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch moved Gibbs to different churches despite the allegations of sexual misconduct. Imesch was one of the first bishops to publicly suggest that Boston Cardinal Bernard Law resign for his handling of priests accused of abuse there.

One of those alleging he was abused by Gibbs sued the Joliet Diocese in 1993; the case was settled in 1998.

Gibbs was first employed as a social service worker at the Missouri Division of Aging from November 1994 to November 1995, when he resigned, said Mary Kay Hager, another Health and Senior Services spokeswoman. He returned in November 1999, again as a social worker.

The Division of Aging has since merged into the Department of Health and Senior Services, where Gibbs now works.

Hager said Gibbs has undergone routine employee reviews and that there have been no complaints against him.

"If we had any complaints against an employee, they would be investigated and taken very seriously," Hager said.

Hager said Gibbs, like all employees, filled out an application form that included previous work history. She said a review of Gibbs' file shows his application appears to have "accurately reflected previous employment."

 
 

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