Accused of Sex Abuse, Priest Takes Leave

By Robert Kelly
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
January 25, 1994

A Roman Catholic priest in Belleville voluntarily has taken an indefinite leave from working as a parish pastor pending the completion of an investigation of sexual abuse allegations against him.

The Rev. Louis Peterson, pastor of St. Teresa Catholic Church at 1201 Lebanon Avenue in Belleville, announced his leave of absence in a statement read to parishioners at Masses on Sunday.

In the brief statement, Peterson said also that the allegations against him were untrue, according to the Rev. James Margason, administrator of the Belleville Catholic Diocese.

Margason said Monday that a special Review Board, set up by the diocese to study sexual abuse allegations, had not found enough evidence against Peterson to recommend his removal as a pastor.

But the stress and anxiety caused by the investigation prompted Peterson to take a leave, Margason said Monday.

Authorities said the allegations involved reports of sexual abuse of a teen-age boy within the last two years.

Church officials refused to release more specific information.

Peterson was unavailable to comment Monday, and workers in the office at St. Teresa Church referred all questions to Peterson's attorney, James J. Gomric. Gomric was unavailable to comment.

Peterson's voluntary leave is the latest in a recent series of events involving allegations of sexual misconduct in the Belleville diocese.

Amid the allegations, seven priests and a deacon in the diocese have been placed on indefinite leave from parish work since March.

The abuses are alleged to have happened more than 10 years ago. Church officials have decided that four of the priests will not be returned to active parish work and will continue to get treatment and counseling.

The diocese covers 28 counties in Southern Illinois and has 110 active priests.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Robert Haida said Monday that reports of sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen are under active investigation by his office.

He refused to discuss the situation further.

No criminal charges have been filed against Peterson or any of the others who were removed from parish work.

Bishop Wilton Gregory of Chicago, who will be installed next month as the new bishop of the Belleville Diocese, has said that he intends to continue investigating reports of sexual misconduct by clergy. He has said the diocesan Review Board would remain in place under his administration.


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