Responses to Sex Abuse Suit Draw Fire

By Joel Currier
Post-Dispatch [Belleville]
June 21, 2004

The Belleville and Dallas dioceses and the St. Louis Archdiocese are playing a game of "hot potato," critics say, each attempting to legally distance itself from a priest accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy in Illinois 20 years ago.

All three are named in a lawsuit filed in November by John Doe. The suit alleges that the Rev. Kenneth Roberts, now retired, sexually abused Doe at St. Mary's Catholic School in Belleville in 1984.

The St. Louis Archdiocese and the Dallas Diocese have responded by asserting that St. Clair County Court has no jurisdiction over them because they do not do business there. St. Louis also says Roberts was never assigned or employed here, although he was allowed to live in three parishes in Florissant and was permitted to conduct some religious services here.

For its part, the Belleville Diocese denies that it was responsible for supervising Roberts. He spent a week at St. Mary's in 1984.

In a statement Monday, the Belleville Diocese maintained that Roberts was a priest of the Dallas Diocese, where he was ordained in 1966.

Member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent a letter Monday to all three religious entities urging them to stop their "legal maneuvering."

"Here you have three bishops saying, 'not our problem, not our problem, not our problem,'" David Clohessy, SNAP's director, said at a news conference on Monday.

Clohessy also criticized Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, saying this "legal stonewalling" is at odds with his promises to change how the church handles allegations of abuse by priests.

Monsignor James Marguson, vicar general for the Belleville Diocese, said the diocese was just following legal procedure by responding to John Doe's allegations.

Roberts, now in his 70s, is a former airline attendant and the author of the book "From Playboy to Priest." He kept an apartment in St. Louis County as a home base while traveling the country promoting his book and lecturing.

The St. Louis Archdiocese revoked Roberts' permission to work as a priest here in 1994, following two complaints of sexual misconduct alleged to have occurred 15 years before, Jim Orso, a spokesman with the St. Louis Archdiocese, said Monday.

Jeff Ezra of Collinsville, lawyer for John Doe, said Roberts was ordained in 1966 in Dallas. From 1969 to 1973, he was on leave from the diocese. From 1974 to 1988 - including the week he spent in Belleville - he was on duty outside the diocese. He retired in 1999, Ezra said.

Reporter Joel Currier E-mail: Phone: 314-340-8744


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