July 11, 2020
By Teri Maddox
Memories came flooding back for Bob Fellner this spring, when news broke that the Catholic Diocese of Belleville had expanded its list of clergymen credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors or serious sexual misconduct with adults.
One of the new names was the Rev. Arthur W. Niemeyer, who died in 1988 after serving churches in Belleville, Shiloh, Kinmundy, Salem and Cahokia. He also worked as director of St. John’s Orphanage in Shiloh in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Fellner was a seminarian who volunteered as a house parent for three summers.
Fellner, 79, of St. Louis, said he and the orphanage’s mother superior reported suspected sexual abuse of grade-school boys by Niemeyer in 1966 to Bishop Albert R. Zuroweste, now deceased, who transferred Niemeyer to another parish.
To Fellner, it seemed like the bishop was sweeping allegations under the rug without holding Niemeyer accountable.
“It kind of blew my mind,” he said last week.
Fellner went on to become a priest in 1967, despite what he believes was an attempt by Zuroweste to get him kicked out of seminary because of his involvement in the case. Fellner served at the former St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church in Cahokia before leaving the ministry, getting married and working in the insurance business for more than 30 years. He’s now retired.
Fellner said he’s glad the truth about abusive clergymen is coming out all over the country, even though it took 54 years in Niemeyer’s case.
“Some of the things that I’ve found out since then, and some of the kids that were affected … One boy in particular, he committed suicide, which I suspect was a result of the trauma,” he said. “I still get worked up talking about it today. It did not have to happen.”
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