Diocese Lax in Case of Priest, Group Says

By Shirley Ragsdale
Des Moines Register
September 21, 2004

A national victims advocacy group is again criticizing the Davenport Catholic Diocese, this time for failing to do more about a priest who left a pedophile treatment center and is living near an elementary school in St. Louis.

The Rev. William Wiebler, 72, who has been named in four lawsuits as a Davenport diocese priest who molested boys in the 1970s and 1980s, left a St. Louis-area Catholic treatment center in May and has been living in an apartment complex about a block away from an elementary school, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported last week.Neighbors described Wiebler as "quite eccentric," "overly friendly and enthusiastic" and "bizarre," and said he was often seen wearing a thin "robe-like thing" around the building, according to the Post-Dispatch.

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, on Monday faxed and e-mailed a letter to Bishop William Franklin. Clohessy accused the bishop of reneging on his responsibility to get Wiebler back into the St. John Vianney Renewal Center and to warn families in Wiebler's University City neighborhood.Last Thursday, members of the St. Louis SNAP chapter, including Clohessy, handed out leaflets door-to-door in Wiebler's neighborhood, warning residents about the priest who looked like Santa Claus.

"Kids are safest when these guys are locked up," Clohessy said. "Research has proven that a pedophile rarely stops molesting."

Rob McMonagle , an attorney for the Davenport diocese, said Bishop Franklin's options in disciplining Wiebler are limited."This is a free country, and he (Wiebler) is a free man, not subject to any criminal sanctions," said McMonagle. "He has been removed from active ministry. We have no control over the man. There is nothing we can do other than encourage him to get the treatment he obviously requires.

"There is no dungeon in the bottom of the chancery."

Wiebler, who retired in 1991, is one of five priests that Franklin has recommended be permanently removed from the priesthood because of credible sexual abuse allegations against them. The Vatican, deluged with such requests from U.S. dioceses, has not ruled on the Davenport requests.Wiebler in 2002 admitted sexually abusing boys, according to the diocese, although the allegations are old enough that he is no longer subject to criminal prosecution. Wiebler is not required to register as a sex offender in Missouri because he has never been convicted of any sexual crime.

When the report of Wiebler surfaced, Davenport diocesan officials said that they didn't know where he was living but that they thought he was receiving outpatient treatment.However, the Rev. Peter Lechner, director of St. John Vianney, told the Post-Dispatch that the center did not offer outpatient treatment. The center has a strict policy against leaving the campus, "but we don't have the power to actually make them stay, " he said.

Neighbors said Wiebler moved into his apartment in May. St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said Davenport diocese lawyer Rand Wonio notified him July 7 that Wiebler had left the treatment center and that he was living in University City. The Archdiocese of St. Louis said it was informed of Wiebler's presence on Sept. 10 by Irene Loftus, a Davenport diocesan official.


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