Meramec College Suspends Choral Director

By Don Corrigan
Webster-Kirkwood Times
November 23, 2007

St. Louis Community College officials have suspended the choral director at the Meramec campus in Kirkwood after receiving documents from a sex abuse case presented to them from the plaintiff, Sarah Gray.

Larry Stukenholtz, a music teacher named in a suit by Gray for alleged abuse when she was a student of his in California, was suspended with pay on Friday. The suspension will continue while college officials review Gray's accusations that he had sex with her when she was his high school student at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

Meramec President Paul Pai is confronted by SNAPís David Clohessy and plaintiff Sarah Gray, who requested the dismissal of a campus music teacher. photo by Diana Linsley

In a statement released Friday, Community College spokeswoman Pat Crowe noted that "the alleged misconduct took place while Stukenholtz was employed as a high school music teacher in California during the 1990s. The college will make a decision about Stukenholtz's employment status upon the conclusion of the review of the relevant information."

Gray filed a lawsuit in 2006 in California alleging Stukenholtz had a sexual relationship with her when she was his 17-year-old music student. Stukenholtz has denied the charge, but last month the Catholic Church agreed to pay $6.7 million to settle a series of lawsuits, including Gray's, which alleged that parish and high school employees had sex with underaged girls in the 1990s.

On Thursday, Gray, 27, now a PhD candidate in English at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, showed up at the offices of Meramec President Paul Pai. She asked Pai for Stukenholtz's dismissal, and did so again later in the day at a meeting of the board of trustees of St. Louis Community College.

Gray presented Pai with a letter noting that she had written the college chancellor about Stukenholtz two months ago. She said she was upset that no apparent action had been taken.

"We hope you will be more concerned and responsive than the chancellor and her staff have been," Gray noted. "We hope you will err on the side of protecting the vulnerable instead of the accused."

Pai told Gray that he had not been contacted by the chancellor's office about her accusations and that, in any case, he did not have the authority to fire Stukenholtz.

"I don't know much more than what I have read in the newspapers," said Pai. "I know there are some questions about an employee that we have working here. But we have a due process system that we will go through."

David Clohessy, director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), accompanied Gray at the Meramec president's office. He asked Pai to use his authority "to protect students and employees" on his campus from an alleged predator.

No Longer Jane Doe

Gray told the Times that she decided to go public about her lawsuit in October, and then decided she had a moral obligation to the Meramec students who may be in contact with Stukenholtz.

"I don't think victims should be quiet and feel stigmatized," said Gray. "I do think that perpetrators should be stigmatized. Teachers and priests are put in positions of great responsibility. In my case, a teacher gained my trust and allegiance and then used it to engage in sexual abuse."

Gray said her parents and friends have been supportive, although they expressed concern when she told them she was going public. She said they warned her that there might be a backlash and some people would question her credibility.

"The Catholic Church found me quite credible Ė credible enough that they awarded me $1.1 million," said Gray. "I was involved in hours of depositions in the case that was settled.

"I understand how some people react to this," added Gray. "Whether it's the Catholic Church or a community college, you are dealing with institutions that are central to people's reality."

Gray said she is still a practicing Catholic, but that she is disappointed with the church hierarchy in its handling of sex abuse cases. She said lawsuit settlements should not provide a green light for defendants in abuse cases to take new jobs that could lead to more victimization elsewhere.

"I still have my faith, but the sacred music will never be the same to me," said Gray. "When you sing 'Glory to God' as part of a choir, it becomes part of you, body and soul. But it's now something different than what it's supposed to be for me.

"Dr. Stukenholtz took us to the Vatican where we sang," added Gray. "These memories will never be right when they were with someone who abused their authority."

Stukenholtz Defended

No criminal charges have been filed against Stukenholtz. Gray did provide college officials and the media with copies of a sworn statement by Patrick Murphy, president of Mater Dei, who stated that Stukenholtz had resigned from the school in 1999 after school officials determined that he had had "inappropriate sexual relations with a former student."

Some students and faculty at Meramec have come to Stukenholtz's defense and have insisted he has not been involved in any inappropriate behavior on the St. Louis campus.

"They admire him. They trust and respect him. They sympathize with him. I understand how they feel," said Gray. "I felt the same way. I was lured into a terrible situation by that trust and respect."

Attempts to reach Stukenholtz for comment for this story were unsuccessful.


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