Accused clergymen worked at Catholic high schools in Belleville, East St. Louis
By Teri Maddox
July 6, 2020
|Brother Anthony J. Pistone is shown in the 1963 yearbook for Cathedral Central Catholic High School in Belleville directing band and teaching English. |
|This photo in the 1959 yearbook shows band members gathered in front of Cathedral Central Catholic High School in Belleville. |
|Assumption Catholic High School replaced Central Catholic High School in East St. Louis and operated from 1953 to 1989. |
|John Duffin, left to right, Anne Harter and David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests protest outside Catholic Diocese of Belleville offices in 2019. |
Photo by Derik Holtmann
|Brother Anthony J. Pistone, second row second from left, is shown with other teachers in the 1963 yearbook for Cathedral Central Catholic High School in Belleville. |
|Brother Louis J. Meinhardt, center top, served as principal at Central Catholic High School in East St. Louis from 1933 to 1937. |
Allegations against five clergymen who worked at metro-east Catholic high schools decades ago had been made public well before June, when the Society of Mary order put them on a list of 46 priests, brothers and aspirants “found to have sexually abused a minor.”
But all of the publicity occurred in other states over the past 20 years.
“For the first time, parishioners and the public in this area are likely being made aware of these allegations and the fact that these five were in the Belleville diocese,” said David Clohessy, co-founder of the St. Louis chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “(The allegations) are now publicly and clearly deemed credible.”
The five clergymen had assignments at Cathedral Central Catholic High School in Belleville and Central Catholic High School and Assumption Catholic High School in East St. Louis, which are all closed. It’s unknown if abuse occurred at these schools.
Four of the clergymen are known to be deceased, according to the order.
The one with the most assignments was the late Eugene T. Fitzsimmons, a brother who professed his vows in 1947 and taught at Assumption, which closed in 1989. He had nine other assignments in Texas, Wisconsin, Missouri, Hawaii and California before leaving ministry in 2000. He died in 2011.
Bernadette Groner, spokeswoman for the Society of Mary, also known as The Marianists, declined Thursday to provide dates for Fitzsimmons’ time at Assumption. She emailed the following statement:
“Many victims, survivors and/or their families desire privacy when they come forward with an allegation,” it read. “The Marianist Province decided not to include dates with ministry assignments in order to help protect their privacy.”
Teacher subpoenaed in murder trial
Allegations against Fitzsimmons were mentioned in a 2002 Associated Press story reprinted at BishopAccountability.org, a website maintained by a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that compiles data related to sexual abuse in the Catholic church.
Fitzsimmons had been subpoenaed to testify at the Texas trial of a man convicted of murdering a police officer during a robbery by a gang of escaped prisoners. The man’s attorneys asked the jury to spare him from the death penalty because of alleged sexual abuse by the brother, who taught at his San Antonio high school from 1960-62 and 1975-80.
“The retired teacher, Eugene Fitzsimmons, in a hearing outside the presence of the jury, invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” the AP reported.
The other four clergymen on the Society of Mary list with metro-east assignments also appear in the BishopAccountability.org database. The late Anthony J. Pistone and late Patrick J. McNulty spent time at Cathedral, which was replaced by Althoff Catholic High School in 1964. The late Louis J. Meinhardt and Thomas P. Purcell worked at Central, which closed in 1953, and Assumption, respectively.
Purcell is the only one of the five clergymen not listed as deceased by The Marianists. He was a priest with nine assignments, including the one at Assumption. He professed his vows in 1959, was ordained in 1972 and left ministry in 1990.
In 2003, an Arizona court convicted Purcell on three counts of sexual conduct with a minor and one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor and sentenced him to nearly 10 years in prison, according to a Tuscon Citizen story reprinted at BishopAccountability.org. He had been accused of molesting a 13-year-old boy in the early 1980s.
The victim reportedly came forward 20 years later after determining that the lasting trauma was threatening his marriage. He told investigators that Purcell had befriended his family and served as a “father figure.”
”It was unknown to us or anyone that he had a history or a possible history of child abuse,” said a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Tucson. “We first learned about it from the South Tucson police last summer.”
In 2011, Purcell’s name appeared on a Catholic Diocese of Tuscon list of church personnel with “credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving a minor.”
Marianists based in St. Louis
The Society of Mary is a 203-year-old Catholic order based in St. Louis. The Marianists work in education, social justice and pastoral ministry in 30 countries, according to their website. They operate 18 secondary schools and three universities.
On June 24, the order posted its list of 46 priests, brothers and aspirants found to have sexually abused a minor; a video message from its provincial, the Rev. Oscar Vasquez, and Vice Provincial Brother Bernard Ploeger; and a letter from Vasquez. He apologized to survivors and their families and expressed shame and regret for “despicable and evil acts.”
“The actions of some have wounded victims, sparked righteous outrage, and severely damaged the trust of the faithful,” Vasquez wrote. “The failure to shed light on sexual abuse in recent decades demands a contrite and transparent response from Church leadership.
“Today, in a spirit of sorrow and accountability, and with a sincere desire for reconciliation and healing, we are confronting the darkness of these sins.”
Some 178 dioceses and Catholic orders have posted lists of 6,754 clergymen“credibly accused of sexual misconduct or assault” in the United States, according to ProPublica, a nonprofit news service based in New York City that has combined all the lists on its website.
That includes the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, which recently expanded its list of clergymen who were “removed from ministry based on credible allegations that they engaged in the sexual abuse of minors or serious sexual misconduct with adults.”
Bishop Edward K. Braxton released his first list in 2018, naming 16 priests and one deacon. Most had been removed from ministry in the 1990s after the diocese formed a review board to investigate allegations.
Belleville list has 12 new names
On June 17, Braxton added the names of 12 clergymen to the Belleville list, including two diocesan priests who were not removed from ministry. The Rev. Arthur W. Niemeyer died in 1988, and the Rev. Thomas W. Miller died in 2004.
Niemeyer served at St. Peter and St. Luke parishes in Belleville, St. Theresa of Avila in Salem, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Kinmundy and Holy Family in Cahokia. Miller served at St. Joseph in Olney, St. Clare in O’Fallon and St. Mary in Anna.
Braxton also added 10 names of clergymen who worked in Southern Illinois while associated with other dioceses or orders.
“(This section) consists of religious order and extern clergy who were assigned to minister in, or had another meaningful connection with, the Diocese and who were determined by their respective religious order or originating diocese to have been credibly accused of childhood sexual abuse,” he wrote.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP, held two protests last year, demanding that Braxton add 14 clergymen from outside the diocese to the Belleville list. This week, Clohessy called on the bishop to do the same with the five priests and brothers on the Society of Mary list with metro-east assignments.
Monsignor John Myler, diocesan spokesman, did not respond last week to a BND inquiry on whether Braxton would take action on Clohessy’s request. The bishop is less than three weeks away from retirement. Bishop-Elect Michael G. McGovern is set to be installed as his predecessor on July 22.
Clohessy’s position is that lists of credibly accused clergymen should include anyone who works in a parish, regardless of their diocese or order, to warn potential victims and prevent sexual abuse from continuing.
“The second part of it is healing,” he said. “For most victims, it’s a tiny measure of relief when they see that their predator has been publicly exposed. They sleep better at night when they can say, ‘OK, at least moms and dads now know about this guy,’ even if he’s 75 years old and retired a decade ago and seems like a harmless, quiet, kind old man.”
One brother was school principal
The late Louis J. Meinhardt was a Society of Mary brother who professed his vows in 1923. He had seven assignments, including one at Assumption, according to the order’s list of clergymen found to have sexually abused a minor.
But Meinhardt worked at Central, according to records at ahspioneers.org, which is maintained by Assumption alumni who raise and distribute scholarship money to Catholic students in Southern Illinois.
Central operated from 1929 to 1953, then students moved into a new building with a new name, Assumption. Meinhardt was principal at Central from 1933 to 1937. He died in 1990.
In 2011, a former student at Chaminade College Prepartory School in St. Louis accused Meinhardt and another brother of sexual abuse in the 1970s, according to news reports. Letters were sent to 1,600 alumni from 1958 to 1982, when Meinhardt taught at the school. Fifteen responded with allegations of verbal or sexual abuse by one of the brothers.
The former student filed a lawsuit in 2015, maintaining that the brothers were football, baseball and hockey coaches when they molested him in the shower and whirlpool after team functions, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
“I went to the Marianists about this abuse years ago, and they lied to me about the abusers,” the student said in a statement. “I’m not the only one who has suffered like this. I have lost friends to suicide because what the Marianists have done has been too much to bear.”
Two clergymen on Texas lists
The late Patrick J. McNulty was a Society of Mary priest with five assignments, including one at Cathedral. He professed his vows in 1952, was ordained in 1966, spent most of his ministry in Texas and died in 1984, according to the order. His photo appears in the faculty section of Cathedral’s 1957 yearbook.
In 2004, a former employee of two Catholic parishes sued The Marianists and Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio, maintaining that McNulty sexually abused her for three years in the 1970s, beginning when she was 12, according to a story in the San Antonio Express-News reprinted at BishopAccountability.org.
“Brother Stephen Glodek, provincial superior of the Society of Mary, said the province paid for her medical treatment, but balked at her demand that it finance her continued education for a master’s degree,” the newspaper reported.
In 2019, the San Antonio archdiocese released a list of 56 clergymen with credible allegations of sexual abuse, and McNulty was on it.
The late Anthony “Tony” J. Pistone was a Society of Mary brother with seven assignments, including one at Cathedral. He professed his vows in 1953 and died in 2017, according to the order.
At Cathedral, Pistone taught religion and English, headed the English department, directed band and served as National Honor Society and Sodality adviser, according to photo captions in 1963 and 1964 yearbooks.
Pistone later served as campus minister at Chaminade, resigning in 2005 after an internal investigation into alleged sexual harassment of a Catholic high school student in Texas in the 1980s, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story reprinted at BishopAccountability.org.
The student claimed that Pistone “grabbed his buttocks as he was leaving the front door of the school,” the story stated.
“A letter to Chaminade parents, faculty and staff said that Brother Tony Pistone would leave the school though the investigation found no evidence to substantiate the allegation and uncovered no other allegations of inappropriate behavior. (The letter) also stated that no criminal or civil charges were filed. Pistone has denied the allegations.”
In 2018, the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth put Pistone on its updated list of clergy with “credible allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.” He had taught at one of its high schools from 1980 to 1987 and was removed from ministry in 2005, it stated.