Convicted Priest Seeks Early Release from Prison

By Cheryl Wittenauer
The Associated Press, carried in Belleville News-Democrat
August 15, 2006

Clayton, Mo. - A Roman Catholic priest serving a 15-year prison sentence for sexually abusing a boy will be considered for early release at a parole hearing Wednesday in Bonne Terre, but a victim's rights group wants him to stay behind bars.

The Rev. Gary Wolken, 40, is seeking early release from a sentence imposed in 2003, after pleading guilty to two counts of statutory sodomy and six of child molestation.

The closed hearing will be at the prison in Bonne Terre, where Wolken has been incarcerated since February 2005. He is expected to attend the hearing. Wolken's attorney, Martin Hadican, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Wolken has been in four facilities over his three-and-a-half year incarceration. The earliest he could be released is Jan. 23, 2008, Missouri Corrections Department spokesman Brian Hauswirth said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests opposes early release and wants him defrocked. Wolken, who was sexually abused as a child, according to the trial judge, apologized in court for his crimes.

The group handed out flyers Tuesday in front of the St. Louis County Courthouse here asking citizens to write to the state and the archdiocese, both to deny him parole and strip him of his priestly title.

"Everything we know about a child molester means he'll do it again," said Barbara Dorris of SNAP as she handed out flyers that said "Please Help Us Protect Kids!"

Brent Dulle, a Saint Louis University law student who was handed a flyer, called the situation "interesting and sad," but doubted a letter from him would have an impact. He also said the SNAP flyer was "a little inflammatory."

"It says, 'now he wants to get out of prison,'" Dulle said. "Of course he does. Who wouldn't?"

The archdiocese has said Wolken was removed from his St. Louis parish in March 2002 and suspended from the priesthood. The archdiocese said the case marked the first time in recent memory that one of its priests was sent to prison for sexual abuse.

On Tuesday, archdiocesan attorney Bernard Huger said Archbishop Raymond Burke has initiated a process to permanently remove Wolken from clerical status.

"Pending a decision of the Vatican, he's forbidden to function or represent himself as a priest," Huger said.

Wolken, a former associate pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in St. Louis, had been a trusted friend of the victim, his parents and siblings, and spent time socializing with the family in their home.

But Wolken admitted exposing himself to the boy, inappropriately touching him, and having oral sex with him over a three-year period, beginning when the child was 5.

An early release is also strongly opposed by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch, who wrote in a July 17 letter to state Probation and Parole board chairman Dana Thompson that Wolken "poses a danger to all citizens."

The letter says the boy repeatedly told Wolken to stop, and even when it did eventually, Wolken blamed the abuse on the child.

"The young boy suffered greatly from the abuse: emotionally, physically, spiritually and behaviorally," McCulloch wrote. "He began to cling to his parents and stopped trusting everyone. His grades fell, kids teased him, and he had nervous tics. He would take several showers a day because he felt dirty. His life has been irreparably harmed by (Wolken's) actions."

McCulloch said Wolken committed a similar but unprosecuted crime 25 years ago with another 5-year-old. Later, he was found to be too close to children and underwent treatment. During the course of that treatment, Wolken molested the boy in this case, McCulloch said.

"Given the sexually sadistic nature of these offenses committed against a young child by a man who was trusted as a priest, he clearly will present significant danger to the victim and all citizens of this state if released on parole," he wrote.

The Probation and Parole Board, which has six to eight weeks to decide whether to grant early release, will consider the seriousness of the offense, Wolken's criminal record, his behavior in prison and the impact of an early release on the victim, Hauswirth said.

State law requires Wolken, and any sex offender about to be released, to complete the Missouri sex offender program.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.