Belleville News-Democrat [Belleville IL]
April 20, 2021
By Lexi Cortes
A St. Louis-based group of child sexual abuse survivors and their supporters is calling on the new bishop of the Belleville Diocese to add four names to its publicly available list of accused priests.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, said they found four men who spent time in the Belleville Diocese as they searched the internet for abuse allegations against priests with local ties.
Three of the men appear on lists of accused priests in other states. The fourth man admitted to a Belleville News-Democrat reporter 15 years ago that he had abused children in other states.
“They belong on the (Belleville Diocese) website, plain and simple,” said David Clohessy, the volunteer Missouri director for SNAP.
Monsignor John Myler, a spokesman for the Belleville Diocese, said Bishop Michael McGovern will consider updating the diocese’s list, which is available online at diobelle.org/faith-formation/child-protection.
“Bishop McGovern said very wisely these things may have happened decades ago, but the pain is still very real for victims, so we will look into these four names and see if there is a connection to the diocese and if there is a credible accusation,” Myler said.
The men whose names SNAP wants added to the Belleville Diocese’s list are:
- Real “Ray” Bourque: Starting in 2002, Bourque lived at the St. Henry Oblate Retirement Home in Belleville, near Althoff Catholic High School, according to BND reporting from 2006. He told fellow retirees and a BND reporter that he had sexually abused boys in the late 1970s and early ’80s when he was a priest in Maine and Massachusetts. Bourque died in 2014.
- Dennis J. McClintock: He was general manager of a “hotel that’s used for retreats” at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows until around 2009, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in 2019. McClintock is named on the Archdiocese of St. Louis’ list of accused priests. The archdiocese states only that McClintock is among the clergy with “substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.” Three women told the Post-Dispatch that McClintock had “crossed boundaries at Queen of All Saints Catholic Church and grade school in south St. Louis County,” according to the 2019 newspaper article.
- Gavin O’Connor: In 1988, O’Connor was a priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cobden, according to local and national media reports. He is named on the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut’s list of accused priests. O’Connor is accused of abusing five male teenagers from 1977 to 1985, according to a 2019 report by a retired judge on the Bridgeport Diocese’s handling of sexual abuse. The report adds that O’Connor admitted he abused three teens who were brothers.
- John Wielebski: He was assigned to the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion from 1978 to 1981, according to the Catholic Review, a publication from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Wielebski is named on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s list of accused priests. The archdiocese stated that it received three reports of Wielebski’s alleged sexual abuse of a minor and sexual misconduct with two young men from the mid-to-late ’80s while he was serving at St. Dominic Church in Baltimore and the Monsignor Clare J. O’Dwyer Retreat House in Sparks, Maryland. The Catholic Review stated that Wielebski denied all of the allegations against him when representatives from the archdiocese met with him.
How Belleville Diocese Maintains List of Accused Clergy
Former Bishop Edward K. Braxton first released the Belleville Diocese’s list in 2018 with 17 names, according to previous BND reporting.
In Braxton’s last update before his retirement in 2020, he expanded the list to include for the first time members of religious orders and clergy from other dioceses who also spent time in the Belleville Diocese. Today, the list includes a total of 34 names.
Braxton’s successor, McGovern, is a first-time bishop installed on July 22, 2020.
A request for an interview with McGovern was not answered. However, Myler said the diocese will continue adding clerics who had a “connection” to the Belleville Diocese.
“It would still necessitate a connection to the diocese, even if it was for a short period of time and decades ago, and it was an allegation from anywhere…we would add them to our list,” Myler said.
SNAP invited reporters to join four of its members on Thursday afternoon outside the Belleville Diocese headquarters, where they explained how the group found Bourque, McClintock, O’Connor and Wielebski.
“What we’ve done in the Belleville Diocese is what SNAP has done all across the country, which is simply take a look at the lists that bishops have posted of their credibly accused child molesting clerics and use simple online research: look at court records, church records, mainstream media accounts,” Clohessy said.
SNAP member Lena Woltering added that BishopAccountability.org makes it easy by compiling media reports, court documents and Catholic officials’ records on accused priests from across the country. The website is maintained by a Massachusetts nonprofit.
When asked if the Belleville Diocese’s office of child protection services spends any time searching other diocese’s lists of accused priests for men assigned to southern Illinois, Myler said that investigation happens after someone brings information to them.
“There are really two things going on: looking at things from the past and the other, which is very important, is training for the present and the future for child protection,” Myler said of the child protection office’s duties. It provides training to clergy, parents, children, teachers and coaches, according to Myler.
The metro-east is home for investigative reporter Lexi Cortes. She was raised in Granite City, graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in 2014 and now lives in Collinsville. Lexi joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 2014 and has won multiple state awards for her investigative and community service reporting. Support my work with a digital subscription