Archdiocese Data Give Fuller Accounting of St. Louis Priest Abuse Scandal
By Jennifer S. Mann
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 30, 2014
[with extensive chart]
Basilica.jpg Morning sunlight bathes the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis early on Jan. 24, 2013. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal exploded across the nation in 2002, St. Louis was exposed to seamy details that previously had been hidden behind local parish walls.
A cascade of complaints against priests and other church employees — some, of abuse kept secret for decades — poured in to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Only recently has the archdiocese revealed the extent.
The number of abuse allegations made here that year, according to the archdiocese’s own record keeping, was 111 — nearly half of what church officials say they received in total over a 20-year period ending in 2003. Those incidents dated back as far as the 1940s.
It is one of several revelations found in a cryptic court filing that provides the clearest view yet of the scope of the crisis here. The archdiocese released the information while fighting demands for further disclosures in a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim of the since-defrocked Rev. Joseph Ross.
The document, a matrix of 240 complaints against 115 priests and other church employees, does not reveal names. While Ross is identified in the case, the rest of the accused and the victims are just numbers on a page.
The archdiocese was — some claim purposefully — vague in describing who received complaints and what the outcomes were. Few other details were given. Not all the reports mesh with victims’ and advocates’ recollections.
Still, even as a snapshot, the document is illuminating. An analysis shows:
Sixteen individuals had five or more complaints lodged against them over the time period, with alleged abuse occurring from the 1960s through 1990s. In 11 of those cases, at least some of the allegations were received before the scandal broke into the open in 2002. One individual who was accused once earlier in the 1990s was the subject of six more complaints in 2002, all dating to the 1970s and early ’80s.
Ross, the first priest to be defrocked here due to abuse claims, was one of seven accused by five different individuals. The matrix shows Ross allegedly abused three individuals before he was convicted in 1988 of molesting an 11-year-old boy in University City, and two others on dates unknown. In four complaints against Ross, the archdiocese describes the outcome as “made report.”
Two individuals had 15 complaints each. One allegedly committed most of the abuse in the 1980s, and the Department of Family Services was notified. The other allegedly molested through the late 1960s and early ’70s, with most of it being reported to the archdiocese in 1994 and 2002, and resulting in settlements.
Nearly a third of the complaints resulted in unspecified settlements. Slightly more were either deemed “unsubstantiated” or apparently dropped because the victim didn’t follow up.
A handful of the complaints involved individuals of separate religious orders, and were referred accordingly. It’s possible some nonclergy archdiocese employees also were included in the list, although church officials, through a spokeswoman, declined to elaborate or comment in general, citing the ongoing litigation.
ABUSES REPORTED LATER
If the dates listed in the matrix are accurate, the archdiocese did not become aware of most of the alleged offenders until years after the abuse reportedly occurred. The spreadsheet indicates only one individual, listed as No. 112, being accused of abusing someone after a previous incident had already been reported and addressed.
Two-thirds of those listed had one documented complaint.
Those assertions may not do much for the plaintiff’s lawyers, who are trying to show that church officials had a pattern of ignoring problems and knew of the risk in assigning Ross to St. Cronan’s Parish in the city’s Forest Park Southeast neighborhood. That’s where the young woman alleges she was abused as a girl, from 1997-2001.
But there are questions about how forthcoming the report is.
“It flies in the face of evidence all around the country,” complained David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “I think it’s safe to say that in the overwhelming majority of cases that we’re aware of here and elsewhere, church officials got reports of abuse, kept the predators on the job, got more reports of abuse and then eventually removed them.”
He and others also have begun piecing through the archdiocese’s spreadsheet, trying to link the data to known cases. So far, things aren’t matching up.
Clohessy pointed to the case of Michael McGrath, who was laicized in January 2005 after a long string of abuse allegations which, according to lawsuits and his own personnel file, spread over the three prior decades. With nearly 30 claims filed against him, McGrath is the most-sued of St. Louis priests.
The spreadsheet offered by the archdiocese does not detail anything that extensive, nor is it entirely clear which of the numbered individuals represents McGrath, because key dates don’t align.
The chart also doesn’t show what happened to each of the accused once a complaint was known.
“It does seem like, in general, they’ve done everything they can to make this as unhelpful as possible,” Clohessy said.
Of the large number of individuals listed with single complaints, he noted, “Very few predators stop at once or twice.”
Barbara Dorris, also of SNAP, was able to identify one case she reported to church officials and police, involving a priest who has been accused three other times. In the spreadsheet, the priest’s number is listed just twice and the reports were deemed “unsubstantiated.”
“Why is my complaint unsubstantiated?” she asked. “He’s been reported four times.”
She said general inconsistencies between what the chart shows, and what she has ascertained from talking to dozens of alleged victims over the years, makes her wonder: “Who are they admitting they know about and who aren’t they admitting they know about?”
NAME DISCLOSURE RESISTED
The archdiocese provided the information as partial compliance with the trial judge’s order, but has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to spare it from having to release specific names to the plaintiff’s lawyers. Even if that happens, the names would remain under seal, inaccessible to the public. That appeal is pending.
While limited, the spreadsheet is the first attempt at a full accounting of abuse within the Archdiocese of St. Louis since 2004. That was when church officials here joined others across the nation in self-reporting known incidents as part of a larger study by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which was conducted by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis then reported only 66 priests who had been accused, along with four who had been exonerated — even though the time period, from 1950 through 2002, was much broader than that of the current accounting. The discrepancy may be because the current spreadsheet includes an unspecified number of complaints against nonclergy.
The 2004 report did not include any details on specific allegations or priests, and the archdiocese did not say how many complaints it believed were credible. Then-Archbishop Raymond Burke said none of the priests in question was working in parishes anymore, all having either died, retired, left the active ministry or been sent to a counseling facility.
Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce’s office investigated complaints relative to just over 70 priests, and convened a grand jury to look at about two dozen of those. But the office could not say how many ultimately were prosecuted because cases involving clergy are not tracked separately. A spokeswoman did note that the legal deadlines for bringing charges had been passed in many of the cases.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis was ordered as part of a lawsuit to release 20 years worth of sexual abuse complaints made against its priests. Below is a searchable and sortable database based on a list church officials released while fighting further disclosures. An unknown number of the complaints may pertain to non-clergy employees or individuals of separate religious orders.