Club Ped: Missouri's Retreat for Pedophile Priests

By Leisa Zigman
May 6, 2010

[with video]

As Pope Benedict XVI vows to bring action against priests who rape and abuse children, the I-Team has uncovered troubling allegations at a Missouri retreat for pedophile priests.

The Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer, Missouri, is just 30 miles southwest of St. Louis. It has no relation to Vianney High School. It's supposed to provide intense counseling, therapy, and strict supervision of priests. But the former therapeutic program coordinator told Investigative reporter Leisa Zigman, priests can get just about anything they want at Vianney, even pornography.

Reyma McCoy worked at Vianney for 10 months. Her job was eliminated the end of last year but she left on good terms and has a letter to prove it. She said she is coming forward at great personal risk, because she believes what is happening inside Vianney needs to be exposed to the courts, to citizens, and to Archdioceses throughout the country.

According to McCoy, the Vianney Renewal Center is home to some of the nation's most dangerous pedophile priests. Yet many served little to no prison time. Instead, diocese all over the country and probation and parole boards sent them to Vianney to undergo intense therapy and counseling in an environment that is strictly supervised.

McCoy said, "There is a brother at Vianney who is there for committing offenses against children, vulnerable adults and animals...while another priest liked to have his victims urinate on him."

McCoy said, "There is no one monitoring them at all...When I first stepped foot on campus it reminded me of camp. It reminded me of a summer camp."

Supervision at the tranquil facility is not by prison guards, but fellow priests. Residents enjoy an outdoor Jacuzzi, hiking trails, picnic tables, basketball hoops, satellite TV, maid service and cooking staff.

McCoy claims residents can view porn on the internet, their cell phones and receive pornographic material in the mail, because there are no disciplinary guidelines or repercussions.

"One of the counselors said he received 25 to 50 pornographic materials handed to him by residents that they got in the mail per month," explained McCoy.

She added, "It's not that they're allowed it. It's that there is nobody checking."

The center is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, an order of Catholic priests. According to its website, Fr.Liam Hoare is the Servant General. He refused repeated attempts for an interview. But documents provided by McCoy indicate he is well aware of the pornography problems.

"My biggest issue was the fact there were no rules at this facility at all...No rules regarding anything," McCoy said.

McCoy, who served as a liaison between the administration, staff and residents repeatedly questioned why residents were allowed internet access in their bedrooms. She said several priests were so computer savvy they were able to turn off Vianney's filtering software, called Covenant Eyes, and view porn whenever they wanted.

In a memo from July of 2009, Fr. Liam refers to a priest in residence as "toxic in his addictions to pornography and cyber sex...for two weeks Covenant Eyes has been closed down on his laptop."

That memo continues, "He is not treatable...and has been in contact with a former student of his."

McCoy says that former student is a former victim.

"I don't understand why the rules are different for the Catholic Church?" said McCoy."

After trying for more than a month, Vianney's Clinical Director, Rob Furey, agreed to an interview.

He said, "We do the best job possible. And the perception this is laxidasical is just misleading. It's unfair. And it's wrong."

Several memos mention how some residents are so computer proficient they figured out how to turn off the filtering software.

Furey contends residents no longer has access to the internet in their bedrooms. They only have access in public areas on campus, he said.

"Do we give a little lee room on inappropriate behavior as opposed to letting them out in the community? Yeah, I guess we're guilty of that. Do we allow pornography? Absolutely not. Absolutely not."

According to officials with Missouri's Probation and Parole Board, everyone should be treated the same. Scott Johnston, Chief State Supervisor for Missouri's Department of Corrections, said Vianney should be reporting any type of violations. Clearly, viewing pornography is a violation of probation and parole.

Currently, Missouri is supervising two registered sex offenders at Vianney. Fr. Robert Larson was convicted in 2001 of molesting alter boys in Kansas. Five of his reported victims ultimately committed suicide.

Missouri also supervises Fr.Barry Ryan from New York, who admitted to sexually abusing a five-year-old boy repeatedly.

Based on our information, investigators with Missouri's Probation and Parole made a surprise visit to Vianney. They searched Larson and Ryan's rooms. They also interviewed administrators.

Johnston said, "There were no computers in individual rooms. There were computers in the facility that had access to the internet but they were controlled through filtering software."

But after reviewing some of McCoy's internal documents, the Board of Probation and Parole launched a formal investigation. McCoy is now helping state officials. She explained that some Vianney residents can not only turn off Covenant Eyes, but have programs downloaded that can hide and delete their search histories.

Johnston said, "Based on the information you just provided me, if we find this is true, there many be violations of the conditions of their supervision. We would be reporting that to the court or paroling authorities and discussing whether this is a suitable place for them to be able to live."

McCoy remains puzzled as to why there are no ramifications for priests who violate the terms of their stay or the terms of their court release.

She said, "When I left Vianney, the question I left with are the residents running this place? Are the administrators? I can't tell you to this day."

Jefferson County Sheriff Glenn Boyer tells me he's had no problem with the residents at Vianney.

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson sent an e-mail stating the Vianney Renewal Center is not overseen by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and therefore declined requests to be interviewed. An expert in Canon law disagrees with the Archbishop saying can. 678, 397 and 609 gives him authority to comment, investigate, and if necessary, after referral to the Holy See, kick an order out of his diocese.

According to Can. 678 1. Religious are subject to the power of bishops whom they are bound to follow with devoted submission and reverence in those matters which regard the care of souls, the public exercise of divine worship, and other works of the apostolate.

According to Can. 397 1. Persons, Catholic institutions, and sacred things and places, which are located within the area of the diocese, are subject to ordinary episcopal visitation.

According to Can. 609 1. Houses of a religious institute are erected by the authority competent according to the constitutions, with the previous written consent of the diocesan bishop.

Just as the Servants of the Paraclete received Archbishop John May's permission to construct the Vianney Renewal Center, Fr. Thomas Doyle, the canon law expert who was consulted, said, "A bishop, after a referral to the Holy See, can remove a religious order as well."

Fr. Doyle holds a pontifical doctorate in canon law from Catholic University, and five master's degrees in canon law, political science, church administration, theology, and philosophy.

While administrators at Vianney will not acknowledge who is in residence, supporters argue the center provides a safe isolated refuge for troubled priests and keeps them away from society. They point out, not all of the pedophile priests in residence are sent by the courts. Those sent by their Diocese could be living in the community. Instead they say, Vianney provides them treatment and housing.

The second part of the investigation has more from those internal memos, reaction from the U.S. Attorney, plus details of an expansion now underway.

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