Archdiocese Broke Promise to Protect, Suit Alleges

By Heather Ratcliffe
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
July 16, 2009

ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis man alleged in a suit filed Wednesday that St. Louis Archdiocese officials lied to him in 2005 when they promised to protect other children from a priest he claimed had abused him.

The plaintiff, identified as "John Doe KC," alleged that the Rev. Michael A. Freymuth sexually abused him in the 1980s when he was a young parishioner at St. Joan of Arc in south St. Louis.

The man said he came forward to report the abuse in 2005 after his mother saw a news report about allegations against Freymuth. The man said he agreed not to take his complaint to authorities, instead allowing the church to address the problem administratively.

"I was led to believe by the St. Louis Archdiocese, including Monsignor (Richard) Stika, that actions would be taken to remove him from the church for good so that he couldn't hurt any other boys," the plaintiff wrote in a prepared statement. (Stika is now the bishop of the Knoxville, Tenn., diocese.)

But the plaintiff said he learned earlier this year that Freymuth had been living and working at two parishes in the city.

Monsignor Vernon Gardin, vicar general for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, declined to comment on the suit, citing the archdiocese's policy against commenting on pending litigation.

In January, the archdiocese said that Freymuth was being removed from active ministry after they learned of a potential suit. At the time, Freymuth was living at Visitation-St. Ann Catholic Church in north St. Louis.

Monsignor Richard Hanneke, director of priest personnel, said Wednesday that Freymuth was now staying at a private residence.

In 2005, an archdiocesan board reviewed the allegations now in Wednesday's suit, and cleared Freymuth of sex abuse.

The suit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, accuses the archdiocese and Freymuth of child sexual abuse, fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and other liabilities. The suit seeks unspecified damages.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said Wednesday that in addition to living at Visitation-St. Ann, Freymuth was working at St. Cronan's Catholic Church on the South Side. David Clohessy, president of SNAP, said the archdiocese had not fulfilled promises to protect children and be transparent about abuse. Leaders are still quietly reassigning priests accused of abuse, he said.

"This is proof positive that very little has changed within the church hierarchy," Clohessy said.


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