Carlson Confronts First Crisis with Priest's Arrest in Sting

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 7, 2009

Not yet two months on the job, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, received a call at 9 a.m. on July 30 from his priest personnel director. Monsignor Richard Hanneke had horrific news.

The Rev. James Patrick Grady, pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Church in south St. Louis, had been arrested in an FBI sting. Grady, 57, had shown up Wednesday at a house used as an FBI trap after arranging to pay for a sex act with a 16-year-old girl, according to federal court documents. The sting also nabbed two other men a bank employee and a landscaping company employee. Investigators searched Grady's car and computer. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 5.

The question given Carlson's experience dealing with Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing minors was how well did he and his staff handle his first crisis?

In the 1980s, Carlson was among the first wave of bishops to confront such abuse. One of his earliest cases: Minnesota priest Thomas Adamson, who would emerge as one of the country's most notorious pedophile clerics.

By the time the Catholic clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002, Carlson was one of the more experienced bishops in the country tackling the problem.

"If there's any bishop who ought of be getting every bit of this right, especially cooperating with law enforcement, it should be Carlson," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests.

A few hours after Carlson found out about the Grady arrest, the Post-Dispatch broke the story on its website, According to an FBI affidavit, Grady had answered an ad on Craigslist and exchanged e-mails with an undercover investigator.

Grady agreed to pay $80 for 30 minutes with the girl, and received directions to a secret location in St. Louis County, documents showed. When he showed up, he was arrested.

Carlson called a news conference for 4 p.m. that afternoon and told reporters that if the charges against Grady are found to be true, the priest "will never work again in the archdiocese." He said he'd suspended Grady and would visit St. Raphael's.

While there was nothing in Grady's file to indicate this kind of behavior, Carlson said, the archdiocese would contact all the parishes where Grady had served, in part to solicit information from parishioners about their experiences with the priest.

The archbishop questioned aloud why Grady would need his own computer, and assured the press that most priests are good men and that Grady's behavior was "a black eye" for the priesthood. He said he'd never met Grady, and that as long as the charges remained allegations, the archdiocese would pay the priest's legal fees.

On Saturday, Carlson celebrated Mass at St. Raphael's and told 350 parishioners that he had suspended their pastor and would be assigning them a new one soon. Carlson appointed Msgr. Henry Brier, secretary to former St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, as St. Raphael's new pastor.

"I know some of you are hurting," Carlson said in his homily. "I come to apologize on behalf of the church and hopefully help you as a parish community to begin the process of healing."

Mary Faith Green told the Post-Dispatch that she'd been impressed with what Carlson had to say. "That was great," she said.

Frank Flinn, professor of religion at Washington University, said he believes Carlson "sincerely wants to reach out to the people."

Clohessy said Carlson "was right to go to the parish." But he said the archbishop can go further. "He should go to every parish where Grady had been."

The archdiocese has guidelines based on national norms put in place by U.S. bishops after the scandals of 2002 that go into effect when allegations of sexual abuse against a minor by a priest take place. One policy demands a church investigation by a review board charged with interviewing the alleged victim and the accused priest.

Carlson was unavailable to answer questions about the church investigation on Friday. But Deacon Phil Hengen, the director of the archdiocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection and member of the review board, said that because this case involved a "virtual victim," it's beyond the purview of the review board, and handled directly by Carlson and Hanneke.

"When we put those policies and procedures in place, we had in mind real flesh-and-blood victims who were under the age of 18 at the time of the offense," he said.

The archdiocese's vicar general, Monsignor Vernon Gardin, said that because the "victim" in the Grady case was the government, the usual rules dictating how the archdiocese investigates sexual abuse allegations don't apply.

"When you're dealing with the FBI, you just don't do things on your own," he said.

Whether or not the archdiocese's guidelines pertain in the cases of "virtual victims," church critics say the archdiocese should do everything possible to find out if Grady has acted on his impulses before.

Church officials agree, to a point. Hengen said that typically "if one person has been victimized, you have to assume there are others ... how that would play out in a situation like this, we don't know yet."

Indeed, the Craigslist ad Grady answered included coded language words like "Vicky" and "hussyfan" that would be recognizable to those interested in sex with minors.

At the end of his news conference last week, Carlson echoed a thought he'd had in 1980 as he investigated the Adamson case. "Am I handling it the way it should be handled?" he asked himself as he was jogging one day.

At his July 30 news conference, he told St. Louis reporters that as he began dealing with the Grady case he'd asked himself, "What more should we be doing that we haven't done?"


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