Catholic Church Says Priest May Have Abused at Least a Dozen Boys

By David A. Lieb
Associated Press, carried in Belleville News Democrat [Jefferson City MO]
February 8, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The Roman Catholic Church acknowledged Tuesday that a former priest may have sexually abused at least a dozen boys over a couple decades in several mid-Missouri parishes.

The Jefferson City Diocese said the Rev. John Degnan had been accused in 2001 - about the time he retired from parish ministry - of sexually abusing a boy in the 1960s.

"Additional allegations surfaced in 2002," the diocese said in a statement issued Tuesday in response to media questions. "The investigation of this case by the diocese eventually suggested the probability of more victims of (father) Degnan in the same locations."

Although church officials have heard of about 12 alleged victims, "our sense has been there are others out there," said Sister Ethel Marie Biri, the diocese chancellor.

Degnan, who turns 80 next week, could not immediately be reached for comment. Biri said that in 2002 Degnan was placed in a supervised residential center run by the St. Louis Archdiocese for priests who can no longer be assigned to parishes for fear they could harm others.

Degnan has not been criminally charged, Biri said. But the diocese has informed the state attorney general's office and several prosecutors about the allegations and has encouraged people alleging abuse to contact police, she said.

In the past several weeks, priests representing Bishop John Gaydos visited four Catholic churches with parishioners or relatives who allegedly had been abused. The priests discussed Degnan's case from the pulpit and encouraged others to come forward if they had been abused, the diocese said.

An advocacy group for victims of priest abuse criticized the Catholic church for waiting several years to publicly disclose the allegations against Degnan.

"It seems like more of the same: secrecy, cover up, belated and begrudging disclosures only under external pressure," said David Clohessy of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Clohessy's group publicized the diocese's pulpit presentations about Degnan on Tuesday. The diocese then acknowledged the allegations in a statement.

Biri said church leaders decided to address the issue during church services "because it became apparent that these parishes needed some kind of healing, and we knew there were other victims out there given the reports over time."

In the 1960s, Degnan was pastor of a rural mid-Missouri parish that has since closed. Many of its members now are at parishes in Pilot Grove and Boonville - two of the parishes that diocese officials recently visited. Priests also discussed the allegations during services recently in Westphalia and Montgomery City, where Degnan served in the 1970s.

During his ministry, Degnan also was assigned to churches in Chouteau Springs, Dixon, St. Thomas, Linn, Gravois Mills, Versailles and St. Elizabeth. The diocese said it has not heard of abuse allegations involving Degnan from those parishes.


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