St. Louis Priest Cited by 3 Removed from Ministry

Associated Press, carried in Chatanooga Times Free Press
January 17, 2009

ST. LOUIS (AP) The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis said Friday that it was removing a priest from active ministry while it again reviews an allegation it had dismissed without merit.

The announcement came after an unidentified man told the archdiocese Thursday of plans to sue over claims that the Rev. Michael Freymuth abused him in the 1980s while he was a student at a Catholic grade school in St. Louis. The man had originally complained to the archdiocese in 2005 about Freymuth, and the archdiocese had found that the man's allegation did not constitute sexual abuse.

The archdiocese released a statement Friday that Bishop Robert Hermann, the archdiocesan administrator, has decided to remove Freymuth from active ministry pending further review. The archdiocese said it takes all allegations of abuse very seriously. A spokeswoman said the archdiocese likely would have no additional information to release Friday evening.

A national group that advocates for victims of clergy abuse said Friday that since 2002, a total of three men have reported abuse or inappropriate behavior from Freymuth to archdiocesan officials.

David Clohessy, national director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the man who plans to file the lawsuit reported having been abused by Freymuth in a meeting with Monsignor Richard Stika and a lay review board in 2005.

He said they never got back to him. Clohessy said the man's mother made a similar report to a parish staffer years earlier.

Clohessy said a different man told church staff in 2002 that Freymuth had molested him 15 years earlier, and that Stika, then the archdiocese's point man on abuse, didn't believe the victim. Stika was named this week by Pope Benedict XVI as new bishop for the Diocese of Knoxville, Tenn.

Stika did not return messages Friday that were left on his office and cell phones.

In 2004, another man, Timothy Bartin of Columbia, met with a church panel to report that Freymuth had invited him, when he was 12 years old, to have dinner and wine with him at the rectory, took him to his bedroom for more wine and an R-rated movie, and rubbed his chest and arms.

"Freymuth's behavior had left me emotionally and spiritually confused," Bartin wrote in a statement provided to The Associated Press. "As I write this today, I can still recall a guilty feeling and confusion."

Clohessy said that disclosure led to Freymuth being suspended. He was surprised to learn only recently that Freymuth was residing at a north St. Louis parish and working at one on the city's south side.

He said the archdiocese broke both promises of the landmark Bishops Charter in 2002, which pledged to keep credibly accused priests out of ministry and be open and transparent.

"It's reckless to put him in any kind of ministry at all," Clohessy said.

"If they believe he's innocent, they should say so.

"In fairness to everyone, they should keep their promises of openness and transparency and announce their so-called findings."

A message left for Freymuth was not returned Friday. But the pastor of a north St. Louis parish and shrine confirmed Freymuth has lived there for 2? years and has been helping out at different parishes as needed, most recently at St. Cronan's, where the pastor is ill.

The Rev. John Vogler at Visitation-St. Ann Catholic Church said he is aware of the accusations, but believed they weren't credible. He said Freymuth was not restricted from celebrating Mass or performing the other sacraments. He said he "went away" for a time to work "on his approach and behavior."

Vogler said he received the small parish community's consent before inviting Freymuth to reside there. He takes care of upkeep on the building, is a sacramental minister, and makes visits to the elderly and infirm.


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