Ex-priest is accused of abusing 4 kids. Monett woman says church ignored her pleas
By Harrison Keegan
August 29, 2020
|A newspaper article announces the reassignment of Father Gary Carr to St. Francis DeSales Oratory in St. Louis.|
Photo by Andrew Jansen
|A photo shows some of the documents Elizabeth Mangler has saved related to Father Gary Carr.|
Photo by Harrison Keegan
|The Catholic Center of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau.|
Photo by Nathan Papes
|Zach Hiner, executive director of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)|
Photo by Zach Hiner
For at least the past 16 years, Elizabeth Mangler has kept a file saved on her computer:
Mangler, 59, had a feeling that some day a man would come forward and accuse Father Gary Carr of child sexual abuse.
And she wanted people to know that in Monett, they tried to stop him.
"We did follow the best chain of command the Catholic Church has to offer," Mangler said.
And she's got the receipts.
This year, four men have come forward and accused Carr, 66, of sexually abusing them when they were kids.
And while all of the abuse allegations involving Carr stem from before his time in Monett, Mangler said she felt like the church was slow to act on the alarming information she and others brought forward nearly 20 years ago.
Despite the concerns of Mangler and others, Carr worked for the Catholic Church for another 15 years after leaving Monett in 2004.
Mangler said she hopes that by speaking out now, the church will take notice and act more decisively next time a priest raises suspicion.
Parents limited contact with priest
Mangler was a volunteer parent who helped with technology at St. Lawrence Catholic School in the early 2000s when Carr was placed there as the school principal.
It wasn't long before Mangler and other parents noticed red flags — like Carr parading around an elementary school Mardi Gras party in nothing but a makeshift diaper or wrestling shirtless with a group of fifth-grade boys.
Mangler said as parents at the school started trying to limit their children's contact with Carr, she started taking notes.
When something concerning happened, Mangler wrote it down. And when she met with Carr's bosses or sent them letters, she kept track of that, too.
"I knew if we didn’t write something down, we would forget," Mangler said.
Over the course of Carr's three years in Monett, Mangler said rumors swirled of inappropriate behavior.
As far as what she witnessed firsthand, Mangler said one day a student came running into the computer lab yelling something to the effect of "He’s a pedophile, get him away from me" as Carr followed behind. Mangler also said she remembered taking a phone call from the leaders of a boys home in Verona saying something had happened when Carr went there to drop off donated clothes, and he was no longer allowed on their property.
According to Mangler's notes, she brought up these issues and others in talks with the school board president, the St. Lawrence parish priest, the diocesan superintendent and a monsignor. She also sent a letter to her parish priest that was purportedly passed on to the bishop at the time.
"Our priest knew, the next priest knew, the bishop knew, the next bishop knew," Mangler said. "They knew this was going on."
But there was no noticeable action from the diocese while Carr was in Monett, Mangler said.
Carr restricted after 'boundary violations'
According to records released by the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Carr left Monett for health reasons in 2004 and briefly returned to priestly work in the summer of 2008 at a church in St. Louis.
Carr officially retired in November 2019, but restrictions were placed on him years earlier.
According to the diocese, then-Bishop James Johnston placed Carr on administrative leave and restricted in ministry in December 2008 for "boundary violations" and what the bishop considered imprudent behavior. That was just five months after Carr arrived in St. Louis.
The diocese says Carr was restricted to celebrating Mass privately and was not allowed to present himself as a priest or be around minors.
It does not appear the bishop's decision to restrict Carr was publicized at the time.
Then in April and July of this year, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau announced that four men had credibly accused Carr of sexually abusing them as boys in the 1980s and 1990s, in places other than Monett.
The diocese says it did not receive any outright complaints of sexual abuse involving Carr until October 2019 (a month before he retired). Church officials say they are cooperating with prosecutors in Butler, Jasper and Stoddard counties, where the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
As of this week, no criminal charges had been filed against Carr related to child sexual abuse.
When Mangler saw the news in July about Carr's accusers coming forward, she hit "print" on that computer file she'd been saving and came to the News-Leader. She said she hopes to meet with the diocese soon and ask them why her concerns weren't acted upon.
Spokesperson Leslie Eidson with the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau told the News-Leader there have been no reports of abuse during Carr's time in Monett. She said had abuse been reported, that information would have been passed on to law enforcement and gone before the diocese's Safe Environment Review Board for further investigation and action.
Carr spent time in Springfield in 1982 and then again in 2004, but is believed to have been living in St. Louis since he retired. Attempts to reach him for comment were not successful.
Record is suspicious, SNAP says
When the diocese publicized the accusations against Carr, they also released the list of his pastoral appointments during his 37-year career, which includes six leaves of absence for health reasons.
Zach Hiner, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said that many sick leaves for a priest can sometimes indicate the diocese was shuffling the priest from place to place after complaints of inappropriate behavior.
Hiner said Carr's sick leaves seem suspicious to him because after each leave, Carr returned to a different parish in a different city.
"It’s hard to believe that if it was really for health reasons that he wouldn’t come back to the same place he had been working," Hiner said.
Hiner said SNAP was contacted by a group of men who reported grooming behavior from Carr at one of the schools where he taught. He said those men told a similar story as Mangler, that complaints up the chain did not result in any noticeable action.
SNAP has called on Edward Rice, the current bishop of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, to visit each parish where Carr worked to publicize news of the sexual abuse allegations and encourage victims and witnesses to come forward.
"There is help out there," Hiner said. "If you’re struggling, please come forward. It’s much better than staying silent."
Eidson, the diocesan spokesperson, said Hiner's suspicion about Carr's sick leave was "merely speculation," and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevented her from being able to further discuss Carr's medical issues.
Eidson said the diocese shares SNAP's goals of ending clergy abuse and promoting healing for victims.
The diocese asked anyone with information regarding inappropriate behavior by Carr or any priest to contact law enforcement and the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection at 417-866-0841 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a TIPS portal on the diocese's website dioscg.org.