Bishop Leibrecht - Addresses Sexual Abuse to Diocese

By Leslie A. Eidson
The Mirror
March 22, 2003

Letter from Bishop Read at All Masses March 16-17, 2003

A great deal of focus is currently on the Church concerning the nationwide cases of sexual abuse of minors at the hands of clergy. Catholics have been dismayed at the stories of unthinkable instances of evil many children or minors—now adults—have endured at the hands of a trusted priest. Priests in Boston and more recently, some in St. Louis and Jefferson City, MO have been pin-pointed, bringing the scandal closer to home. With a heavy heart, Bp. John J. Leibrecht took the occasion of his forty-sixth anniversary of ordination to the priesthood to address these cases with his constituency in southern Missouri.

By way of a letter read to parishioners at all Masses in each church and mission of the diocese this past weekend, Bp. Leibrecht conveyed his thoughts on this delicate subject matter. The bishop told diocesan Catholics in the last 30 years the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has dealt with three such instances of sexual misconduct of its own. One commencing under the leadership of then-bishop Card. Bernard Law and two to follow with Bp. John J. Leibrecht at the helm.

Fr. Leonard Chambers was found guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor in the early 1980's while pastor of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, Springfield. Sent for treatment and after professional evaluation and recommendation in 1983, Fr. Chambers was reassigned in the diocese. Strict guidelines of conduct and conditions of ministry were imposed by Bp. Leibrecht and agreed upon by Fr. Chambers.

In 1998 evidence was brought to the bishop and subsequently confirmed by Fr. Chambers that a condition of his reassignment had been violated. No misconduct was alleged or found. The condition broken was one which stated that Fr. Chambers was forbidden to ever be alone with a minor or minors. Fr. Chambers corroborated the evidence that this condition had indeed been broken. Bp. Leibrecht removed his priestly faculties and Fr. Chambers retired.

In 1992 Fr. Lawrence E. Gregovich was found guilty of sexual misconduct during his ministry as pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, New Madrid. Fr. Gregovich was immediately relieved of his priestly faculties and sent for treatment. Fr. Gregovich is retired and not been allowed to function as a priest since 1992.

Letters to Bp. Leibrecht in the mid-1990s alleged sexual misconduct by Fr. Amel A. Shibley while he was pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish, Sikeston. In 1995 Fr. Shibley was relieved of his priestly duties and retired.

In 1997 after consultation with the retired Fr. Shibley, Bp. Leibrecht asked him to serve by sacramentally assisting on a part-time basis St. Michael Parish in Fredericktown. As in the case of Fr. Chambers, the bishop imposed strict guidelines of conduct and conditions for ministry to be followed by Fr. Shibley. These guidelines of conduct were adhered to.

On March 3, 2002, in light of the current national and local events, Bp. Leibrecht believed it necessary to conclude Fr. Shibley's sacramental ministry and removed his priestly faculties.

"Each of these men is truly repentant of the wrong he has done," Bp. John J. Leibrecht said. "It would be wrong of us who try to live by the teachings of Jesus to forget the good they have done because of their sins of the past. In lieu of the human weakness with which every person contends, Christians should take careful pause before casting the first stone at another (John 8:1-11)."

"Pray for these priests. Please pray also for those they have wronged," Bp. Leibrecht added. An explicit Sexual Misconduct Policy for the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has been in place since 1993. Applicable to all personnel, the policy's purpose is to establish and outline procedures to provide guidance on how to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct if they occur as well as prevent sexual misconduct by personnel of the diocese and the resulting harm to others.

A diocesan committee is presently taking prudent steps to review and further hone this policy. ŠTM

March 13, 2002

Dear Parishioners:

During the past several months, the media have placed a major focus on sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests. I hope it will be helpful, and reassuring, to report to you the situation in our diocese.

We have policies and procedures for investigating accusations of sexual abuse of minors. Those policies apply to all diocesan and parish personnel, including clergy, seminarians, teachers, youth ministers and maintenance staff. The diocese is committed to investigating every accusation of sexual abuse of minors. I want you to know that no such accusation, against anyone, is now before diocesan officials.

Now let me specifically address sexual abuse of minors by priests. I have personally dealt with three cases of abuse since coming here over 17 years ago. One situation needing attention predated my arrival and the other two occurred since my coming to the diocese. Three priests no longer have faculties for priestly ministry because of their inappropriate behavior with minors. No priest in this diocese, culpable in the past for sexual abuse of minors, can have parish responsibilities.

Sexual abuse of minors by priests brings great suffering to its victims and their families. It also brings sadness and bewilderment to our entire Catholic community. And, I assure you, sexual abuse by an individual priest, because of his betrayal of trust, deeply pains all other priests in the diocese.

The issue of sexual misconduct by priests will continue to be reported by the media. The sadness we now experience will require time for its healing. I ask your prayers for our nation's sexually abused children and teens, especially those abused by clergy. Pray for the families who work tirelessly to support their children who have suffered harm in the past. Pray that our Catholic community's abiding respect for life makes us value even more the dignity and inviolable worth of every child and teen.

I want to say a word about our priests, diocesan and religious, who at this difficult time, continue to give their lives faithfully to God and to you. They need your grateful support and mine. They are embarrassed and suffer from the behavior of brothers with whom they have labored. Please do not let the actions of a very few priests affect your respect, appreciation and affection for the priests among you. I say publicly that I am truly proud to be the bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau presbyterate.

The gospel today addresses life and death, sorrow and joy, pain and healing. In two weeks we shall celebrate the Easter feast of newness. At this time when our faith in God and in the Church is tested in yet another way, may we experience Easter hope € a hope not only for the future life of eternity but, even now, hope for our Church and all its members.

Asking God to bless you and all your loved ones, I am

Sincerely in Christ,

Most Rev. John J. Leibrecht

Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau


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