Negotiations with Diocese Stalled in Suit against Priest
Plaintiff Says He Was Molested As 8-Year-Old

By Beth Gansmann
Belleville News-Democrat
July 16, 2002

Settlement talks with the Belleville Diocese stalled Monday in a federal lawsuit brought by a 37-year-old man who claims he was molested by the "singing priest" Joseph Schwaegel 20 years ago.

A settlement conference was scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gerald Cohn in East St. Louis, but the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

"There's no indication they are going to settle at this point," said Fredric Nessler, one of the attorneys who represents Jeph Hemmer, the man who alleges Schwaegel molested him when he was an 8-year-old Catholic schoolboy attending the Cathedral School of St. Peter's Cathedral in Belleville.

The suit was originally filed in St. Clair County in August 1999, but Nessler, who has handled at least 30 other cases against priests accused of sexual misconduct, refiled the case in federal court in East St. Louis in April 2001.

The case is scheduled to go to trial in October.

Hemmer claimed he didn't remember the sexual abuse until February 1998, but suffered from mental and physical illness, according to the 95-page complaint.

Nessler and fellow attorneys Keith Jensen and Steve Rubino just received additional materials from the church, but Nessler said they have yet to face a big challenge -- the case has passed the statute of limitations.

In his complaint, Hemmer claimed Schwaegel, who was well-known for his singing and recorded three albums, molested and sodomized him in St. Peter's rectory in Belleville in 1972, then intimidated him into silence by "frightening, paranoid-inducing, confusing, intimidating and deliberate God-fearing admonishments."

"Schwaegel admonished (Hemmer) about the evils of women and to not tell of the sexual contact," the complaint said.

The Diocese of Belleville also was named in the suit because the diocese knew about Schwaegel's abuse in 1972, but ignored and covered up the abuse, according to the complaint.

Father James Margason, the spokesman for the diocese, would not comment on the suit. Schwaegel could not be reached for comment Monday.

Schwaegel was ordained in 1965 and later was named pastor of St. Peter's Cathedral and later was named a monsignor.

Schwaegel was arrested in Missouri on sexual misconduct charges in 1987, then in 1994 he was arrested again for soliciting an undercover officer for sex at a highway rest area.

Schwaegel, who in the past maintained he never had sexual relations with children, entered treatment for sexual addiction and was later removed from the priesthood.


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