Bishops Knew of Priest's Abuse

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch [St. Louis MO]
May 4, 2007

A confession from a pedophile priest in the late 1970s indicates that the St. Louis Archdiocese knew about the priest's crimes, yet two archbishops allowed him to continue working with children in new parishes for years afterward.

A letter from the priest, the Rev. Donald Straub, and others from parents complaining about his behavior were made public Thursday by a victims' rights group after a lawsuit against the archdiocese was settled last week.

"I spoke to Bishop Wurm about allegations made by parents of boys from Resurrection from 1976 and 1977," Straub wrote on May 11, 1978. "I acknowledge the allegations are true and I will be happy to abide by any decision his Eminence will make respective the help and assistance I may need to enable me to cope with this problem."

In the handwritten note, Straub refers to Bishop John Nicholas Wurm, then an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis and chancellor of the archdiocese. Wurm later became the bishop of the Belleville Diocese. The note was signed by Straub and Wurm.

After Straub was ordained in 1975, he served at St. George Parish in Gardenville until 1977. Many of the complaints from parents made public Thursday were from abuse that occurred at either Resurrection of Our Lord in St. Louis, where Straub was a deacon, or from St. George, his first assignment as a priest.

Straub was removed from his post for treatment in 1977. He would later be treated again in 1986, but was back at a church by 1990. The Vatican defrocked Straub in 2005.

"At the conclusion of his treatment, the professional health care facility recommended he be returned to a parish," said Monsignor Richard Stika, the archdiocese's Episcopal Vicar for Child and Youth Protection, in an interview Thursday. "The recommendations of health care professionals was the best advice they had at the time."

Four months before Straub's confession, a group of parents had written to Cardinal John Carberry, St. Louis' archbishop, complaining that the priest had been abusing their sons. Carberry confronted Straub, according to Stika, then sent him away for treatment.

At the end of that treatment, in 1979, St. Louis' new archbishop, John May, returned Straub to ministry, sending him to Our Lady Queen of Peace in House Springs.

After a year, Straub was transferred to St. Charles Borromeo in St. Charles, where he was later removed and again sent for treatment after new allegations of sexual abuse emerged.

In 1990, Straub surfaced in the diocese of Dodge City, Kan. Stika said the second treatment facility recommended the priest be returned to limited ministry with supervision, and the St. Louis Archdiocese gave its blessing for Straub's ministry to the Dodge City bishop.

But less than a year later, Straub was again removed. Stika said the archdiocese has no record of Straub between 1991 and 2005, when the priest was laicized by the Vatican.

Straub, now 58, lives in Crestwood. A message left at his home was not answered Thursday.

The case settled by the archdiocese last week involved a boy who was 13 at the time he was abused by Straub in 1973. The abuse lasted about two years, according to the victim's attorney, Ken Chackes.

Chackes said last week's settlement was the fourth the archdiocese has made because of Straub over the last couple of years, totaling less than $200,000. He said there was at least one more pending lawsuit against the archdiocese regarding Straub.

Stika said the church was "sorry that (Straub) continued to abuse, but in these instances, you went with the professionals in terms of trying to understand the psychology of the problem.

"At the time people thought it could be dealt with and safeguards could be built," he said. "Thirty years later, we know that's impossible."

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