Belleville priest who said he ‘never hurt a child’ accused for second time of sexually abusing a boy


July 29, 2019

By Lexi Cortes

Catholic church leaders in the Belleville Diocese promoted a priest they knew as a danger to children until he was in charge of their largest parish and its grade school, where he is accused of sexually abusing students, according to a civil suit filed earlier this month.

Joseph Schwaegel, who was first accused of child sexual abuse in a 1999 lawsuit, has been named in a new complaint filed against the diocese July 19 in St. Clair County Circuit Court.

Schwaegel died in 2016. During his career, diocese officials had given him the elevated title of monsignor and eventually made him rector of Belleville’s St. Peter’s Cathedral and superintendent of Cathedral Grade School.

He was added to the diocese’s list of accused priests who were removed from their churches in 1994.

The latest plaintiff to come forward with allegations against Schwaegel filed under the pseudonym John Doe.

A spokesman for the diocese could not be reached for comment. The lawyers representing the plaintiff were not immediately available for comment.

From 1987, when Doe was a 6-year-old starting kindergarten, until 1989, Schwaegel would call Doe and other students out of class to be alone with him, according to the civil lawsuit. The complaint states that is when Schwaegel sexually abused Doe on the diocese’s property.

Jeph Hemmer, who had also been a student at Cathedral Grade School, said Schwaegel abused him in 1973 at the school and rectory when Hemmer was 8 years old, according to his lawsuit in federal court. Hemmer’s lawsuit, which was refiled in federal court in 2001 after a year in civil court, ended in a settlement. U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford Proud dismissed the lawsuit against the diocese in that case. Proud died earlier this year.

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