Priest Retirement Center Prompts Controversy
Group Claims Priests with Histories of Sexual Abuse Don't Belong at Shrewsbury Retirement Facility
By Don Corrigan
Times [Shrewsury MO]
March 6, 2005
Clergy with histories of sex abuse, who reside at a retirement facility in Shrewsbury, may pose a threat to children in the community, according to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
SNAP members demonstrated Feb. 23 outside the St. Louis County Police Department in Clayton. They held photos of priests and a map with push pins showing where convicted and suspected abusive clerics live in the St. Louis area.
They also produced a letter of concern about molestation risks, addressed to Col. Jerry Lee of St. Louis County Police.
"We write to you today because of our concern that children within your jurisdiction are needlessly being placed at risk because the Archdiocese of St. Louis has chosen to house known pedophiles in a retirement home," declared the letter, authored by David Clohessy and Barbara Dorris of SNAP.
"The home, Regina Cleri, was designed as a retirement facility for priests in their declining years," the letter continued. "It was built with their comfort and safety in mind. It was not built to house dangerous sexual predators."
According to SNAP, Regina Cleri housed as many as eight abusive clergy as of January 2005. Among those residents are:
Michael Campbell, removed from the diocese after he admitted the molestation of a minor.
Hugh Creason, removed by the diocese because of sexual allegations that he molested a young boy.
Alfred Fitzgerald, removed from the diocese because of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Clohessy, national director of SNAP, said molesters need to be in a secure facilities where they can receive treatment for their disorders. He said Regina Clery on Laclede Station Road was too close to parks and schools, within easy walking distance of unsuspecting children.
Clohessy also said it was "unconscionable" that the Catholic Archdiocese was putting pedophiles in the midst of good priests who had served the church honorably through long careers. He said good priests deserve a safe and quiet retirement after exemplary service to the laity.
The Archdiocese has repeatedly assured the public that when sex abusers among the clergy are identified, they are isolated and monitored. Timothy Dempsey of Pacific, who filed a sex abuse lawsuit against Robert Johnston in December, disputes the Archdiocese' assertions.
Dempsey said he tried to confront Johnston about his past abuse at Regina Cleri. After giving a deposition about his abuse to law enforcement, police accompanied Dempsey to the center, but Regina Cleri personnel told police that Johnston had left in a car and they were unsure where he went.
Johnston, who admitted in 2002 to sexual misconduct with a minor, then resigned as pastor of Our Lady of Providence parish in Crestwood. He was finally arrested at Regina Cleri this January. Dempsey said the Archdiocese should have taken the responsibility to bring abuse reports and admissions of abuse to police.
"They always try to keep it quiet, transfer the priests, pay the hush money," said Dempsey. "It is hypocritical when they hold themselves up above everybody else and talk about morality.
"If you look at Fr. Johnston's case, you see they bounced him around from church to church. From Valley Park to Crestwood. He's been at St. Martin de Porres, St Joachim, St Catherine of Sienna, Church of the Immacolata in Clayton and finally to St. Mary's in Old Mines," noted Dempsey. "They knew they had a problem with Johnston and they wouldn't deal with it."
Local Police Response
Shrewsbury police said they have had several calls inquiring about Regina Clery since the demonstration by SNAP in Clayton. Police said there have been no complaints and there are no on-going investigations of any individuals at the retirement center.
"No one can defend what some of the residents may have done 10, 20 or more years ago, but most of these people are in their 70s and older, and we don't really consider them to be a threat to the community," said Shrewsbury Police Lt. Brian Catlett. "We are not investigating any complaints at this time."
Jamie Allman, spokesperson for the Archdiocese, said there are three levels of monitoring for the priests who may have abuse as a part of their past.
"These people are monitored closely by the administrator at Regina Clery; they must check in daily with Archdiocese officials; and they must report regularly to the Archdiocese Vicar for Child Protection, Monsignor Richard Stika," Allman said.
"The Regina Clery facility is in full compliance with the law," stressed Allman. "The only alternative would be to put these people out on the street, and that would be a danger to them and to the public. But to my knowledge, no one at that facility has been convicted of a crime; although one was recently booked, he has not been convicted.
"If the police want any information on who is at the facility, we are always ready to cooperate and to make everything available," Allman added.
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