Five New Civil Lawsuits Allege Priest Abused Boys in 1970s
By Chris Dettro
September 17, 2003
Five new civil suits were filed in Madison County Tuesday against a retired priest who served in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, charging that he sexually abused five boys in the 1970s.
The Rev. Walter Weerts, who pleaded guilty in 1986 in Adams County to charges of sexual abuse and was sentenced to six years in prison, is alleged to have abused the five men, who are now in their 30s and 40s and living in various locations, when he took them on out-of-town trips. Weerts was ordained in 1960 and worked in Godfrey, Granite City, Decatur, Hume, St. Marie, Edwardsville, Liberty, Brockton and at Sacred Heart parish in Villa Grove. It was while he was assigned to the Douglas County community that most of the abuse alleged in the five lawsuits took place.
All nine towns are in the Springfield diocese, which covers approximately 28 counties.
The suits were announced at a news conference Tuesday at the Madison County Courthouse in Edwardsville, with two attorneys and the director of a support group for clergy abuse victims on hand. The five men, four of whom still live in the Midwest, were not present and filed the suits using pseudonyms.
"He was a very charismatic priest who owned a Mercedes and apparently property in southwestern Illinois and Missouri," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of the self-help group SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Much of the abuse is alleged to have occurred when Weerts took the then-youngsters to apartment complexes he owned on the premise they were to do maintenance work such as cleaning and lawn mowing, Clohessy said.
In 1986, Weerts, then 50 and pastor of St. Brigid Catholic Church in Liberty and St. Thomas Catholic Church in Camp Point, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse in Adams County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to six years' imprisonment after admitting he performed sexual acts on three teenage boys ranging in age from 13 to 16.
In 1987, a Belleville attorney said the Springfield diocese had reached a cash settlement with the families of three teenage boys who alleged Weerts had molested them two years earlier. The settlement, the amount of which was not disclosed, prevented the families from filing suits or discussing the incidents.
"It takes years, sometimes decades for victims to come forward," Clohessy said. "There is a feeling that church leaders just don't get it, and that promises they made to take care of the problem were never kept."
Weerts was released from prison in the early 1990s and began teaching horticulture at Palm Beach Community College in Florida. Clohessy said he believes Weerts secured that position because of a positive letter of recommendation from one or more Springfield diocese officials.
He said Weerts apparently now lives in Jefferson, Texas, although it is not clear what he does for a living there.
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