A Quiet Refuge — under Watchful Eyes

By Tim O'Neil and Patricia Rice
St. Louis Post Dispatch
March 3, 2002

They are quiet places in the woods for deeply troubled priests, some of whom inflicted great harm within their flocks.

The two little-known locations are home to priests and religious brothers from around the country. They live in controlled environments designed to keep them under watchful eyes and to give them refuge.

Some are there because of depression or other mental disorders. Others are convicted sex offenders whose sentences require them to stay there, and whose names are on the local county sex-offender registries.

By coincidence, the two centers are about 10 miles from each other along the boundary of Jefferson and Franklin counties, 30 miles southwest of St. Louis.

One is the St. Jean Vianney Renewal Center, on 10 acres north of Missouri Highway 30 and west of Dittmer. The center is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, an order of Catholic priests who tend to priests and members of religious orders who suffer from such things as alcoholism and depression. They also work with pedophiles.

The other is The Wounded Brothers Project, a not-for-profit center run by a priest and a former alcohol-abuse counselor. It is amid woods on a 280-acre tract between Dittmer and Robertsville, just inside Franklin County. The center, too, works with sex offenders.

"We're a halfway house, mainly for people who have exhausted treatment options and are here for a safe residence," said Mark Matousek, director of the Wounded Brothers Project. "It's best that they be in an environment in which they can be monitored. There is a need to provide them a safe place where they can be taken care of."

Said the Rev. Peter Lechner of Sunset Hills, servant general of the Paracletes: "Their suffering can help save their souls. The cross can be the way of salvation."

The two centers are among about a dozen in the nation that do this sort of work.

The centers near St. Louis are similar but independent of each other. The Vianney Center, established in 1990, now cares for 13 residents. Lechner said the six residents who were convicted of sex offenses are locked in at night and live according to the rules set by Missouri probation officers.

Wounded Brothers does much the same with the two registered sex offenders among its 15 residents. They live in a lodge the organization bought in 1993.

The Vianney Center is a complex of peach-colored buildings near a narrow country road and next to a larger retreat center operated by the Franciscan Friars. The center has a two-story main building that appears to have once been a home, plus several cabins, a small chapel and a pond.

Lechner said the six sex offenders are supervised closely and never leave the grounds without escort. He said their stay is considered "long-term," but he added, "If someone is here because of an involvement with minors, we would not recommend that they go back to the ministry."

The Paracletes have a retreat center in Jemez Springs, N.M., that formerly dealt with pedophilia and sent some priests back to their dioceses. Some of them committed more offenses, leading to suits and an end to the program there. Back then, Lechner said, medical professionals had a limited knowledge of the difficulty in dealing with pedophilia. Advances have led to more stringent rules.

The Paracletes also run St. Michael's Community in Sunset Hills, which treats priests who suffer from depression, alcoholism or other ills, but who are considered likely to return to their duties.

8 were removed by superiors

The eight registered sex offenders who live at the Vianney Center and Wounded Brothers include priests and religious brothers from as far away as Maryland, Texas and California. None is from the St. Louis area. Nor are there any from Boston, where the nation's fourth-largest Catholic archdiocese is in turmoil over allegations of sexual abuse by priests and accusations that church leaders didn't protect parishioners from known or suspected predators.

All eight were removed from active ministry by their religious superiors.

As required by Missouri law, the offenders here registered with their local sheriff's offices, center directors said. The law requires people who have been found guilty of certain sex offenses to fill out reports detailing where they now live, what they were convicted of and when.

More than 5,000 people are listed in Missouri counties, 187 of them in Jefferson and 100 more in Franklin.

Officials of the two centers declined to identify anyone who lives there or to say where they are from. But eight names on the county registers listed addresses that match the centers', and the names also match with news reports of criminal convictions and information from prosecutors and probation offices: • Ronald Sam Gilardi, 54, a priest who pleaded guilty last year of molesting a boy at the Catholic high school in Hays, Kan., where he had been a teacher until 1996. The terms of his five years' probation specify that he must remain at the Vianney Center.

• Leonard B. Nienaber, 95, formerly a monsignor in Lexington, Ky., who pleaded guilty in 1994 of molesting children in his parish from 1964 to 1977.

• Robert Brouillette, 60, a former member of the Christian Brothers, who had been an administrator at a boy's high school in Chicago. Brouillette was found guilty in 2000 of indecent solicitation of a child and of disseminating child pornography over the Internet.

He was arrested in 1998 by Cook County sheriff's deputies who had been running an undercover Internet sting operation and posing on the Net as a 12-year-old boy. Brouillette was sentenced to six months in jail and four years' probation, which requires him to remain in the Vianney Center.

• Thomas S. Schaefer, 76, and Alphonsus Smith, 77, both priests from Washington. They were among four priests who were indicted in Prince George's County, Md., in 1995 on charges of sexually abusing nine boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Schaefer and Smith pleaded guilty in 1996 and were given 16-year prison terms. One year later, their sentences were reduced to five years of supervised probation, which required that they remain in treatment facilities. Both of them completed probation last year but have remained under care at the Vianney Center.

• John Moniz, 80, formerly a Jesuit brother in San Jose, Calif., who was found guilty in 1995 of having a girl, 4, fondle him. His probation ended in 1998.

• David J. Malsch, 62, a priest in Tomahawk, Wis., who was convicted in 1993 of fondling a boy, 14, in a swimming pool. In 2000, after Malsch's sentence was completed, a court in Wisconsin ordered him to remain indefinitely at Wounded Brothers.

• Donald Stavinoha, 66, a priest in Houston who was sentenced in 1988 to almost 10 years for a sex act with a 9-year-old boy he was counseling at his parish. A parishioner who also was a police officer discovered the encounter. Stavinoha served three years in a Texas prison and was released from parole in 1997.

There are about 46,000 Catholic priests, both diocesan and members of religious orders, and 5,500 religious brothers in the United States.

Jo Mannies and Tim Rowden, both of the Post-Dispatch, contributed to this report.




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