Archdiocese of St. Louis abuse victim speaks out after settling with church for $1M

St. Louis Public Radio [St. Louis MO]

November 10, 2023

By Lacretia Wimbley

It was 1993, and Jonathan Dean was 10 years old when his world was no longer fulfilled by the things that make childhood carefree.

He was a fourth grader at the Ascension Catholic Church in Chesterfield when he said he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of now ex-priest Gary Paul Wolken.

Now an attorney based out of Chicago, Dean, 41, decided to speak out and unveil his identity that was concealed in 2018 as “John Doe,” when he first sued Wolten and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

He shared his story for the first time publicly at the University Club Tower in Richmond Heights on Thursday afternoon. His wife, Emily, stood a few feet away in support.

“I was traumatized,” Dean said Thursday. “And from that point forward, the trauma forever changed the course and trajectory of my life.” His child brain immediately repressed the painful memories, so it was years before he understood the deep wounding within him, he said.

He resorted to abusing drugs and alcohol, sex addiction and other behaviors to numb his pain as a teen, he said. Casual drinking turned excessive and life threatening, he added.

Dean also contemplated suicide into adulthood, though he didn’t understand why. His memory returned to him in summer 2013, and he remembered that Wolten raped him four times.

The abuse that began in the early ’90s continued for two years, Dean said.

“Still to this day, having been raped as a child has left a darkness in my soul that I cannot shake and cannot leave behind,” Dean said. He said it’s common for kids who experience such abuse to repress their memories.

Dean said the Missouri courts attempted to have his case tossed out the next day after a settlement with the archdiocese was reached on June 6. He acknowledged the courts weren’t aware of the settlement at the time they tried to toss out his case. The case was officially settled for $1 million on July 26.

Still, he criticizes the legal teams that represent accused perpetrators for “playing hardball” and harassing people who bring claims.

“[The court] ordered that my case be dismissed based upon the statute of limitations,” Dean said. “In doing so, the court ignored my testimony, ignored the testimony of a dozen of my family members and friends.”

The Archdiocese of St. Louis has not yet responded to inquiries about Dean’s claims.

A history of abuse

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office in 2019 released a 329-page report that covered more than 2,000 priests who have served in the state since 1945. The report found credible allegations of more than 160 instances of sexual abuse by Catholic diocesan priests and deacons against minors, across the four dioceses in Missouri.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office released a similar report in May that examined all six Catholic dioceses in the state — the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. It found that more than 400 clergy had abused over 2,000 children since the mid-1900s.

These reports came on the heels of a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found that more than 300 Catholic clerics had sexually abused more than 1,000 children for over 70 years.

Wolken, 58, worked at the Chesterfield parish from 1993-97. He was reassigned to Our Lady of Lourdes in University City in 1997, remaining there until 1999. He was then assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows in south St. Louis until 2002.

That year, Wolken was convicted of abusing another child over a three-year period beginning when the boy was age 5 in about 1997. Wolken was sentenced to 15 years in prison and was released in 2015.

In 2007, he was formally defrocked by the Vatican. He is currently registered as a sex offender.

To seek damages from an injury or illness caused by childhood sexual abuse, the incident must be reported within 10 years of the victim turning 21 years old or within three years of them discovering they were harmed in childhood sexual abuse.

Missouri House Bill 367 aimed to make it easier for childhood sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers in court by extending the statute of limitations from 10 to 20 years. The state House of Representatives passed the bill in May, but progress stalled. The Senate did not call it for a vote in 2023.

Dean credits close family and friends with helping him gather the courage to speak out and file a lawsuit against the clergy. He said he received settlement funds from it in September.

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