Supporters Oppose Calls for Priest's Removal

By Casey Godwin
Central Newsmagazine
December 15, 2008

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has held several rallies recently demanding the removal of Rev. Robert Osborne from St. Peters Catholic Church in Kirkwood. But Osborne's supporters say claims against him are unfounded and he should stay.

A student at Vianney High School accused Osborne of sexual misconduct in 2006. Osborne was never prosecuted for those allegations; instead, a lawsuit was filed. In 2007, the Marianist Province and the high school reached a settlement for an undisclosed sum. The Marianists removed Osborne from Vianney, where he had been serving as president since 2002.

National SNAP Director David Clohessy and former St. John Vianney High School Public Relations Director Linda Briggs-Harty have spear-headed the rallies. SNAP officials said they are concerned that due diligence has not been done and is calling for a lay review board background check. According to the U.S. Bishops Charter, priests that are credibly accused of harming a child should face a review board that mostly consists of lay persons. The board is to make an assessment and determine whether the accused cleric is suitable for ministry. The decision to rely on lay review boards in the event of sexual misconduct with a child came in 2002 after such reports became increasingly common.

"What was happening in the past was that one church official was vouching for another accused priest," Clohessy said. "That's part of the reason why literally tens of thousands of kids have been molested by priests."

Clohessy claimed such a review board never looked at Osborne's case, and instead the Marianists gave the OK for him to remain at the church. Officials with the Marianist Province have not confirmed whether such a review was ever done, but has said that Osborne is a priest in good standing.

Briggs-Harty said that in the time she spent at the school, she was disturbed by the frequency of Osborne's visits, which occurred despite his removal from Vianney.

"I don't understand why the Marianists aren't keeping him away," Briggs-Harty said. "They are supposed to be protecting the children and he was removed from the school, so why does he keep coming back?"

Briggs-Harty, who had a child enrolled at the school, said she left the school after repeatedly watching that scenario happen. She said she pulled her son out of the school to protect him.

Vianney President Mike Loyet stressed the importance of children's safety. He posted a message to parents on the school's Web site to explain the school's position.

"Since posting the letter, we have not received a single phone call from a parent who has an issue with safety," Loyet said. "As a father of two teenagers, I take this responsibility very seriously."

Supporters of Osborne claim that Briggs-Harty has a personal vendetta and said that the recent waves of protests are harassment.

"I had hoped this was going away and that SNAP would realize it was a false allegation," said Bill Hannegan, who was a student at Charminade College Preparatory School at a time when Osborne served there. "No one I've ever talked to believes it and it's totally out of character for Father Osborne to have done anything like what they've alleged."

Hannegan said the settlement was not an admission of guilt.

"When there is a lawsuit, the insurance company is going to settle, otherwise we don't have insurance anymore," said Glenn Jamboretz, who heads the group Friends of Father Osborne. "I can tell you Osborne didn't want to settle. You can't take that as an admission of guilt. This is not a plea bargain."

Officials at Vianney were not willing to comment on Osborne's visits to the school since his removal, but a statement the Marianists released said Osborne was only there during "non-school hours with the express knowledge of school officials."


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