Home Houses Several Priests Accused of Abuse

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [Missouri]
Downloaded March 22, 2005

When priests are ordained in the Roman Catholic church, it is understood that they will be priests for the rest of their lives. Only the Vatican can laicize a priest ordained in the church. Bishops can't take away an ordained man's priesthood, but they can take away his ability to minister in the church.

St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke says eight or nine men who have been removed from ministry after accusations that they abused minors live at Regina Cleri.

The official retirement home for priests is on the archdiocese's Shrewsbury campus, in a neighborhood with children and day care centers. Burke says the priests who have been removed from ministry are strictly monitored by a nun who runs the facility.

St. Louis archdiocese officials say the priests in question fall into a different category than those housed at Vianney and RECON, local facilities that permanently house pedophile priests from around the country. They say the eight or nine men at Regina Cleri abused children long ago, and the abuse may have happened only once. Burke considers them low-risk to offend again, but because of the charter adopted by U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002, any priest found to have a credible allegation of sexual abuse of minors in his past is removed from ministry.

"While all these things are deplorable," said Monsignor Vernon E. Gardin, the archdiocese's vicar general, "there is a degree of severity - whether it's a one-time minor occurrence to something else. . . . You can't impose a stricter law, because they have rights as citizens."

Burke has often said he has no authority over Vianney and RECON. But the archbishop's critics stress that he does control what happens at Regina Cleri.

"We've got admitted or credibly accused priests secretly living in a retirement home," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Burke can try to dress it up however he likes, but this is a retirement home where residents come and go, not a secure facility, and it's very close to kids."

About 200 yards north of the dormitory, across an expanse of lawn, are the back yards of families living on Chapelford Lane and Robin Meadow Court in the Kenrick Manor neighborhood. Just south of Regina Cleri is the Cure of Ars Catholic church, which leases space to the Berry Patch Professional Childcare Center. The day care center serves about 50 children Monday through Friday.

Across the street is the Webster Childcare Center.

Day care parents and Regina Cleri neighbors say they were never notified that some priests with credible allegations of abuse against them lived at Regina Cleri.

Burke said he was unsure if people nearby had been informed. "I think that's known, I don't know. It's a home for priests," he said.

Burke said staffing at the center is adequate for the level of offense committed by the problem priests living there. "We have a full-time staff there headed up by Sister Geraldine, and she is very strict - their comings and goings, everything is monitored," he said. "She is right on top of things."

Sister Geraldine Vogel said the priests in question serve as the facility's "volunteer employees" doing everything from driving older priests to the hospital or drugstore to fixing computers. In an interview on Friday she said she does not monitor the men if they go to a movie or for a walk. "I don't police them like that. I would trust them all. I would."

Shrewsbury police chief Jeffrey A. Keller said the department had not received

any complaints about priests at Regina Cleri.

Greg and Debra Newton live adjacent to the Shrewsbury campus. They said their four daughters, who range in age from six to 18, play with many of the kids in the neighborhood, sometimes on the jungle gyms and swing sets visible from Regina Cleri. They said they wished the archdiocese had said something about the priests at Regina Cleri who had been removed from ministry. "It's scary," said Debra.

A few houses away, Rocco Erker, the father of young children, can see Regina Cleri from his back window. He said neighbors recently received a letter from the archdiocese explaining its plan to put up landscaping between Regina Cleri and their homes. "I find it pretty ironic," said Erker, "that the archdiocese feels it's important to notify us that they want to plant trees behind our lots, but they can't tell us about the pedophiles living there."