Vianney President Is Accused of Sex Abuse

By Robert Patrick
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
February 21, 2006


The president of St. John Vianney High School in Kirkwood temporarily stepped down Tuesday after a lawsuit accused him of having "sexually, physically and emotionally abused" a student.

He denied wrongdoing.

The suit, which also names Vianney and the Marianists, who run Vianney, says the Rev. Robert Osborne coerced the teenage student into drinking alcoholic beverages, made sexual comments to him, hugged and kissed him and made "other overt and covert sexual contact with him."

In addition, the suit also says Osborne watched and tried to watch and photograph the boy when he was undressed.

Osborne, informed of the lawsuit Tuesday morning by a Post-Dispatch reporter, said he was "shocked." "I never touched anyone inappropriately," Osborne said.

He also said that while he was aware of family complaints to school administrators that he had been "hovering" around the boy, he was not aware of any allegations of inappropriate behavior or sexual contact. "That is the first I've ever heard of that, and I categorically deny it," he said.

Osborne agreed to step down temporarily pending an investigation of the allegations, Marianist spokeswoman Diane Guerra said Tuesday afternoon. Principal Larry Keller will fill in as administrator, she said.

Guerra said Osborne has acknowledged there was one other allegation against him in his almost 51 years as a Marianist brother.

She said Osborne recalled that in about 1982, the mother of a student at Chaminade College Preparatory School in Creve Coeur told a teacher that Osborne, then pastor of a church next door, had "acted inappropriately" with her son. A Marianist official asked Osborne about it. Osborne said he did not understand, and asked to speak with the mother, but was told she did not want to talk to him and wanted him to stay away from her son, Guerra said.

Osborne could not be reached Tuesday afternoon for comment on that point.

Osborne told students about the lawsuit and his departure at a school assembly Tuesday afternoon, and officials were preparing letters to notify parents of the almost 700 boys at the school. In a draft of the speech provided by the Marianists, Osborne said the "allegations are completely unfounded, and I will defend myself vigorously."

Osborne, 73, took his first vows in 1955 and was ordained in 1966. He has both taught and served in religious or administrative roles at Vianney and Chaminade and first served as acting president at Vianney in 2002. He was a pastor of Our Lady of the Pillar from 1981 to 1986 and served in the Marianist administration from 1986 to 1995, province records show.

Vianney and Chaminade school officials said they were shocked by the allegations.

Parents interviewed Tuesday at Vianney said they had never heard such complaints.

"I've seen the way he is with the boys," said Judy Poe, mother of a Vianney junior. "A sincere, caring way." She added, "My first inclination is to stand behind him, until there's any proof." But she said, "It's tragic if it's going on."

At a news conference Tuesday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, one of the lawyers who filed the suit said the boy was abused at the school, at homes, in cars and restaurants and on school-sponsored trips.

Lawyer Ken Chackes said family members witnessed some of the alleged activity, and said Osborne seemed to become "infatuated or obsessed" with the boy. Chackes said that Osborne hugged the boy, kissed his shoulder, rubbed his arms, legs and stomach and walked into the bathroom while the boy was showering.

Chackes said the boy came forward three weeks ago, and the boy's father and his therapist then told school officials and a Marianist official. They reported the allegations to Kirkwood police late last week, he said.

Police Capt. Diane Scanga said someone reported Saturday that a priest at Vianney gave wine to a minor. Scanga said she would not name the priest unless charges are filed. "We don't have any allegations of sexual misconduct in Kirkwood, so that's not part of our investigation," Scanga said.

But Chackes said that the allegations were "clearly sexual" and were reported to Kirkwood police.

Neither the lawyer nor the suit specified the name or age of the boy.

Guerra said she has talked to Osborne, who said that on one trip outside the United States he allowed the boy to have a small amount of wine at a meal after the boy's father gave him permission.

She also denied Chackes' statement that officials refused to remove Osborne after the initial accusations. Guerra said Brother Stephen Glodek, head of the Marianist Province of the U.S., told Osborne to stay away from the boy and set up a meeting Feb. 15 with the father. The father postponed it, Guerra said, and the next thing Marianist officials heard was news of the suit.

Officials were told of some "boundary issues," but not told of any sexual contact or inappropriate touching, she said.

David Hunn of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.


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