Claim of Abuse Forever Taints Priest's 51 Years in Order

By Bill McClellan
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
February 26, 2006

When Father Robert Osborne was ordained in the Marianist order 51 years ago, the bells of St. Mary were still ringing in the hearts of Roman Catholics and Bing Crosby was the perfect guy to play the role of a priest - charming, caring and cheerfully serving the Lord by serving His people. There are those who say that Osborne was that sort of priest.

"My dad died when I was 13," said Doug Schoen, who is now a radiologist. "I was one of six boys. My oldest brother was 15, the youngest was 18 months."

The oldest brother went to Vianney and worked as a bus boy at Bartolino's South on Lindbergh Boulevard. One evening one of his teachers was there having dinner with Osborne, who was then the pastor at Our Lady of the Pillar.

The teacher must have told the priest about the family's plight, because Osborne soon called the mother. He wanted to help. He hired the mother as a secretary, and then he helped her get a better job. He became a surrogate father to the boys. He took them on trips - Rome, Mexico City, tours of Civil War battlefields. Sometimes he'd take two or three of the boys, sometimes just one. Every one of the six boys graduated from college.

"All I can tell you is, the six of us grew up without a father but got something even better," Schoen told me this week, his voice cracking with emotion. "I can't imagine him doing anything like what they're alleging."

On Tuesday, a father filed a lawsuit charging the 73-year-old Osborne with "sexually, physically and emotionally" abusing his son, a student at Vianney High School, where Osborne served as president. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) held a press conference that day to announce that the suit had been filed.

The day after the lawsuit was filed, Mike Owens of KSDK reported that the alleged victim had been sexually abused by his mother, who is now in prison. I called David Clohessy of SNAP and asked him if he was at all troubled by the alleged victim's history.

"Just the reverse," he said. "Abusers look for kids who are vulnerable, who have credibility issues."

And Osborne's stellar reputation in the community?

"When can we understand that a man can be a wonderful mentor and a great teacher and still be a child molester? If these guys had horns and tails, no child would want to be with them and no parents would trust them," Clohessy said.

There is, I'm sure, some truth to that, but it seems awfully unfair to turn a man's good reputation against him. It seems even more unfair for the civil case to come before a criminal case. If a person is criminally charged with sexual abuse, some third party, a prosecutor or a grand jury, has made a determination that there is some substance to the allegations. But a civil lawsuit? An accuser needs only a filing fee.

I met with Osborne on Friday afternoon in the office of his attorney, J. Martin Hadican. I asked how he had first met the youngster.

He said the youngster was in his homeroom. In the fall of 2004, the boy told him he was going to have to go to court and testify against his mother. Osborne said the boy asked if he would come to court with him. Osborne said he agreed to do so.

He also said he already knew about the charges against the mother from the pastor at the family's church. The trial was awful, Osborne said. The testimony was graphic. Osborne himself was called to testify about the effect the abuse had on the youngster.

Osborne said he began wondering what he could do to help the youngster and his older brother. He said he asked the father if he could take the two boys to Rome for Holy Week.

He said he gave the father the names of men whose sons he had taken on trips or had gone with him themselves when they were young. He said the father had called some of these people and had decided to let his sons make the trip. They went to Rome in March of last year.

Osborne said his younger brother, a married man with five grown children, had gone with them. They stayed in the order's general headquarters. The boys had a suite to themselves, Osborne said.

Osborne said he continued to mentor the youngster. He also asked Schoen to meet with the boy.

"He needs a man in his life," Osborne said.

In January, Osborne said, he took the youngster to visit Osborne's brother in California. Everything seemed fine, he said.

At the end of January, Osborne flew to Nebraska, where he is on the board of a school. He then flew to San Antonio for a conference. A teacher from Vianney and two students, including the youngster, also attended the conference. Osborne said he noticed a change in the youngster's attitude. He was very disrespectful, Osborne said.

About a week after returning from San Antonio, the principal of Vianney told Osborne that the boy's father had been to the school to complain about Osborne's relationship with his son, Osborne said. He said the principal had said Osborne was "kind of hovering" around his son.

Osborne said that one specific complaint was that he had asked the boy to take his shirt off for some photographs. Never, said Osborne, but he said that one time the youngster, who was a football player, had come into his office after practice wearing his football pants but no shirt. Osborne said he had suggested taking a photograph to send to some people who had helped with the youngster's tuition. The youngster didn't say anything, and the subject was dropped, Osborne said.

The lawsuit alleges that Osborne rubbed him and kissed him. Osborne said nothing like that ever happened.

"I hugged him on more than one occasion, but these were not long, passionate embraces," he said.

While I was interviewing Osborne, one of the editors called me to say that the Kirkwood police were reporting that another student had come forward with a complaint. The police gave no details. I asked Osborne about the report.

"I can only guess," he said, "but the school had extra counselors in after these charges were made public, and I was told that a student said he had been given a drink of alcohol in my office."

He said he did not give students alcohol, but he did have beer in his refrigerator. He shrugged.

I asked him if he thought he could ever regain his reputation.

"Never," he said. "Even if I am exonerated on all counts, some people will figure there must have been something to it."


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