Priests Accused of Molestation Were in Cape and Perryville

By Emily Priddy
East Missourian
September 20, 2013

Documents released recently as part of a legal settlement show two Catholic priests accused of molesting children in California spent part of their careers in Cape Girardeau and Perryville, Mo.

John Edward Ruhl and John V. "Jack" Farris, members of the St. Louis-based western region of the Vincentian order, were among the defendants in a lawsuit alleging child molestation by multiple clerics.

Under the terms of a 2007 settlement, the defendants' personnel documents were made public earlier this month.

Among the documents in Ruhl's file are references to three victims who claimed Ruhl molested them in the 1970s.

Ruhl worked at St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville from 1961 to 1963 and spent the summer of 1964 at St. Vincent's College in Cape Girardeau. By mid-1993, he had been placed on "inactive leave" and was not expected to return to active ministry, according to a note in his file.

Farris' personnel file made no mention of child abuse, but the lawsuit claimed the priest, who died in 2003, molested a child from 1951 to 1954 in California, the Los Angeles Daily News reported earlier this month.

According to his file, Farris worked for St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville from 1977 to 1978, Christ the Savior Church in Perryville from 1981 to 1982 and the Evangelization Center in Cape Girardeau from 1985 to 1986.

Ruhl's file specifically refers to three allegations of molestation in the 1970s -- one from 1970 to 1971, one in 1973 and one in 1976.

In a complaint filed in 2002, a man told church officials he was a freshman at a California Catholic high school when Ruhl called him into his office and fondled him on several occasions from 1970 to 1971.

"I was naive and trusting. I didn't think he would hurt me," the student reported. "I felt weird when he touched me."

A 2002 letter to another former student at a California high school offers counseling in response to a claim Ruhl molested him in 1973.

A note after a 1993 complaint about inappropriate behavior toward a student in a shower in 1976 states Ruhl took a lie-detector test after being confronted about another case. The test "indicated that there was reason to suspect that there had possibly been other inappropriate behaviors," according to the note.

Although all the cases that prompted the lawsuit involved minors in California, a victims' advocate said the priests could have hurt local children while they were in the area.

"We'd like to see the Springfield-Cape Girardeau bishop, and, frankly, local Catholic clergy in Cape aggressively seek out anyone who may have been hurt," said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "... Even when a predator is deceased, it's sometimes possible for prosecutors to pursue enablers -- those who ignored or concealed the crimes."

A spokeswoman for the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese said she was not familiar with the California cases, but as far as she knew, no local victims had come forward.

"We don't have any knowledge of any allegations against those men," said Leslie Anne Eidson, director of communications, media and publicity for the diocese.

In January, Eidson told the Southeast Missourian the diocese had received a "credible" complaint about an instance in which the late Walter G. Craig was accused of molesting a child at a New Madrid, Mo., church during the 1960s.

The diocese asked other churches where Craig had served -- including one in Chaffee and another in Jackson -- to seek out other potential victims, Eidson said in January.

Because Farris and Ruhl belonged to the Vincentian order, they fall outside the jurisdiction of the diocese, Eidson said Thursday.

That said, the diocese would reach out if a local accusation surfaced or if Vincentian officials asked for help contacting local parishioners, she said.

"We would just hope that any victim, if they've been abused by anybody, would come forward," Eidson said.

Clohessy said regardless of jurisdictional issues, the diocese needs to reach out to potential victims.

"A bishop is responsible for the safety and well-being of every Catholic in his diocese," he said.

Many victims suffer in silence for years, and most resort to self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse, eating disorders or suicide attempts, Clohessy said.

"Everyone copes with it differently, but virtually everyone at least initially copes with it in an unhealthy way," he said.

Even if the abuse occurred decades ago, victims need to come forward, both to get treatment and to keep their abusers from harming others, Clohessy said.



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