Judge Rejects Most Charges in Suit against Former Priest
Sexual Abuse Claims Were Made Too Late, Ruling Says

By Michael Shaw
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
January 30, 2003

Most allegations accusing former Monsignor Joseph R. Schwaegel of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy in 1973 were dismissed this week by a judge who also released the Roman Catholic Diocese of Belleville from liability.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud did not address the merits of the claim by plaintiff Jephrey Hemmer.

Proud's ruling in federal court in East St. Louis found that the claims were made too late and did not give any reason that the diocese should have recognized Schwaegel as a threat.

Proud left intact a claim of negligence and assault against Schwaegel. But with the diocese out of the case, the ruling appeared to limit Hemmer's chance to collect significant financial damages. He had sought more than $75,000.

Hemmer, 38, now of Boulder Creek, Calif., had been a student at Cathedral Grade School in Belleville. He claims Schwaegel sexually abused him on three occasions in the rectory of St. Peter's Cathedral.

A third-grader at the time, Hemmer said he had been rehearsing for a school play orchestrated by Schwaegel.

Hemmer said he had repressed the memory of the abuse until 1998.

Schwaegel resigned from the priesthood in 1993, and, a year later confessed to being a sex addict after being arrested for offering sex to adult men at highway rest stops in St. Louis County. He worked for a while after resigning, but is now retired and lives in the Metro East area.

Hemmer filed the federal suit two years ago, alleging 21 counts of negligence, assault and other transgressions.

Proud noted that the case is in federal court because the parties live in different states, so Illinois' strict statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims takes precedence.

Illinois requires that suits seeking damages for childhood sexual abuse must be filed within two years of a person's discovery that the abuse occurred. B1

Proud said most of Hemmer's allegations did not meet the deadline.

The ruling said the diocese cannot be held responsible because Hemmer offered no proof that it should have been monitoring Schwaegel or controlling his behavior.

"There is no evidence in the record that Schwaegel engaged in any inappropriate sexual conduct with anyone prior to 1973," Proud wrote in an order granting summary judgment to the diocese. "(The) plaintiff has presented no evidence that Schwaegel ever had sexual contact with a minor other than himself."

Attorneys for Hemmer and Schwaegel declined to comment. Diocese officials could not be reached. The remaining case is set for a hearing next month.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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