Priest Pleaded Guilty in '88 to Assault of Boy
Archdiocese Didn't Tell Next Parish of Conviction

By Norm Parish
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
March 7, 2002

When the St. Louis Archdiocese removed the Rev. Joseph D. Ross from his parish last week, church officials said they did so because of a stricter policy regarding substantiated allegations of sexual abuse.

What archdiocesan officials didn't say was that Ross pleaded guilty in 1988 of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old boy during confession.

Just three years later, the archdiocese placed Ross at St. Cronan Catholic Church in St. Louis, never informing parishioners of Ross' conviction. Ross, 58, had at least two prior arrests and another accusation of sexual misconduct, according to police records.

In a statement Wednesday, the archdiocese acknowledged that it was aware that Ross had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor sexual abuse. Ross had been sentenced to two years' probation in the case.

According to University City police records, county prosecutors at the time expected the conditions of Ross' probation to include resigning from the archdiocese and seeking treatment. On Wednesday, the archdiocese said the only condition of probation was for Ross to continue in therapy.

"At the direction of Archbishop John L. May, Father Ross thereafter participated in a seven-month residential treatment program in Washington, D.C.," the statement says.

"Since then he has continued in aftercare treatment. Father Ross' reassignment was made only following the assessment and the recommendation of outside health care professionals."

Ross was accused of grabbing and kissing the youngster several times during confession in December 1986 at Christ the King Church in University City. The boy also reported that while he was attempting to confess his sins a month later, Ross grabbed his arm and attempted to pull him onto his lap. The youngster told police that he had immediately fled from the confessional, police records show.

Ross could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Officials at the archdiocese declined to say where he is. Parishioners have been told that he is staying with friends.

The boy is now a 26-year-old man. He declined Wednesday to discuss the incident and said he had trouble recalling it.

"I'm not supposed to talk about it," he said.

Ross, who was assigned to Christ the King at the time of the incident, was initially charged with first-degree sexual assault and third-degree assault. The charges later were reduced to a misdemeanor.

George R. "Buzz" Westfall, who is now St. Louis County executive, was the county's prosecuting attorney in 1988. Westfall said Wednesday that he did not recall the case.

Robert P. McCulloch, the current prosecuting attorney, declined Wednesday to discuss the case because, as part of Ross' plea agreement, the court records for the case were removed from public view two years after the sentencing.

In general, McCulloch said, his office reviews sex abuse cases on a case-by-case basis.

"We take into consideration the number of victims, the age of the victims, the nature of the crime," he said.

In the incident at Christ the King, the boy told authorities that Ross had rubbed his backside and kissed him seven times while he was confessing to Ross. Ross told him, "Father loves you," the boy told authorities.

The boy reported in 1988 that he couldn't sleep and had dreams about the acts performed by Ross.

In initial police reports, Ross said he didn't recall kissing the boy, but he said he told the boy, "You are worth loving, God loves you. Because God loves you, I love you."

Even before the incident at Christ the King, Ross told University City police, he had been arrested or accused of sexual misconduct. According to the University City police report, Ross told them that he was:

* Accused of molesting an eighth-grade boy during the 1970s at St. William Church in Woodson Terrace. Ross told police that the accusation came after he attempted to discipline the youngster.

* Arrested after police said he had propositioned an undercover police officer in a bathroom at Crestwood Plaza. Ross told University City police that he was entrapped. Crestwood police said Wednesday that they had no report of the incident.

* Arrested in 1972 on a charge of committing a lewd and lascivious act. Des Peres police said they had observed Ross masturbating with two other men in a bathroom at the Famous-Barr store at West County Center. A Des Peres judge later dismissed the charges, police said.

Before going to Christ the King, Ross had been assigned to several other churches in the St. Louis area. He served as a transitional deacon at St. Elizabeth Church in St. Louis in 1968 and 1969. Immediately after his ordination to the priesthood in 1969, he was named to Immacolata Church in Richmond Heights. He remained there for four years.

He later served at St. William, St. Bridget in Pacific and St. Bernadette in Lemay. In 1991, he was assigned to St. Cronan.


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