Former Student Pursues Charges
Says Priest Abused Him 20 Years Ago
November 13, 2003
A former student at St. Mary's Catholic School in Belleville filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging he was sexually abused in 1984 by now-retired Rev. Kenneth Roberts, author of the autobiography "From Playboy to Priest."
The 32-year-old man, who filed the case anonymously as "John Doe A," claimed in the lawsuit that Roberts, 73, sexually abused him in the rectory of St. Mary's Catholic Church. The man, then 13, said he was interested in joining the priesthood and sought Roberts' counsel.
"Imagine my horror when he took my admiration and used it to manipulate me," the anonymous man said in a statement provided by his attorney. "By preying on my trust and innocence, Fr. Ken Roberts changed my life forever that day when he sexually molested me."
The lawsuit, filed in St. Clair County court, asks for more than $50,000 in monetary and punitive damages. Too much time has passed for criminal charges to be filed, but because the man didn't fully realize the extent of the psychological damage caused by the abuse until recently, a civil case is still possible.
At the time, Roberts was spending a week at St. Mary's, 1722 W. Main St., celebrating daily Mass and speaking on various religious topics. It was after Roberts' lecture on sex education that the alleged victim approached Roberts about his desire to join the priesthood.
The boy already knew of Roberts from reading his autobiography.
"I was elated when I learned Fr. Roberts would be visiting my church and school," John Doe A said. "I would get to interact with the man who I not only idolized, but also felt had put me on the right path to a spiritual life."
Instead, the man said Roberts abused him. The lawsuit names Roberts as a defendant, along with the Catholic dioceses in Belleville, St. Louis and Dallas.
Rev. James Margason, vicar general for the Belleville Diocese, said he had yet to see the lawsuit Wednesday evening and cited diocesan policy not to speak about pending litigation.
The St. Louis archdiocese said Roberts was a Dallas diocesan priest with permission to serve as a priest here from 1968 until August 1994, when it barred Roberts from practicing locally. The St. Louis archdiocese fielded two complaints of sexual misconduct involving the cleric 15 years earlier.
Roberts does not have a listed St. Louis-area phone number and surrendered his Missouri driver's license to the state of Ohio in 1999, according to the Missouri Department of Revenue. It was not immediately clear Wednesday if Roberts was living in Ohio.
The accuser's attorneys said they were unaware of Roberts' whereabouts.
Roberts also was accused of sexual misconduct in the late 1960s in the Dallas area, where the diocese there paid $8,900 in 1994 in therapy fees to an accuser in St. Louis and $30,000 in 1998 to a former Fort Worth, Texas, altar boy.
Charles Grahmann, Dallas' bishop since 1990, granted Roberts a medical retirement in September 1995 and restricted his duties, though Roberts apparently began ministering online.
After Roberts refused church orders to cease his public ministry and contact with young people, Grahmann in 1998 suspended Roberts from celebrating Mass, wearing clerical garb or presenting himself as an active priest.
Church officials also said then that Roberts "should not use the title 'Father' in order to avoid confusion and misrepresentation."
Roberts, who has denied past sex-abuse allegations, at the time was supported by some conservative Catholics around the country who viewed the church's pedophilia crisis as the result of liberalism and lack of obedience to the Vatican.
Over the years, Roberts produced audiotapes, videotapes, books and magazine articles about a Bosnian town where children have reported seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. He also wrote a 1997 book, "Nobody Calls It Sin Anymore" and, until his 1998 suspension, served on America Online's Catholic discussion group staff and developed an extensive Web page on the Catholic Online service.
Online, Roberts operated question-and-answer sessions, visited chat rooms and founded a club for young people considering religious careers. Roberts also appeared on the Eternal Word Television Network.
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