Diocese Lifted from Lawsuit against Schwaegel
Case against Priest Set for Trial May 12

By Mike Fitzgerald
January 31, 2003

A federal judge in East St. Louis has removed the Catholic Diocese of Belleville from a lawsuit filed by a man alleging he was sexually abused 30 years ago by former Monsignor Joseph R. Schwaegel.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud ruled the diocese could not be held liable for Schwaegel's alleged acts of abuse because they did not fall within the scope of his employment by the diocese.

In addition, Proud tossed out 19 of the 21 allegations contained in the federal lawsuit that Jephrey Hemmer, 38, filed in 2001 against Schwaegel, the former pastor of St. Peter Cathedral in Belleville.

The dismissed allegations were filed too late under Illinois' statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims, Proud ruled.

Schwaegel was popular as a priest and widely known for his musical talents. He recorded three albums of Christian music and once sang regularly at local establishments.

Hemmer alleges Schwaegel molested him in 1973, when he was an 8-year-old schoolboy attending Cathedral Grade School in Belleville.

The remaining two allegations in Hemmer's lawsuit accuse the "singing priest" of negligence and assault.

An affidavit signed by the Rev. James Margason, the diocese's vicar general, filed last fall in connection with Hemmer's lawsuit stated at least three other men had come forward to accuse the "singing priest" of sexual misconduct.

Hemmer's lawsuit against Schwaegel is scheduled to go to trial at 9 a.m. May 12.

The Belleville Catholic Diocese has removed 15 priests, including Schwaegel, and one deacon since March 1993 over allegations of sexual abuse of a child or sexual misconduct.


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