Mother, Alleged Victim of Sex Abuse Say Church Authorities Let Them down
Convicted Priest Had Been Shifted from Parish to Parish, City to City
By Tim O'Neil
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri)
March 11, 2002
The Rev. Victor A. Frobas, a priest and convicted molester of teen-age boys, spent his last days grumbling that the Roman Catholic Church should have done more to make him stop.
A mother in west St. Louis County believes to this day that someone in the church hierarchy should have known to keep Frobas away from children -- especially from her son.
And a man in Massachusetts, who said Frobas molested him 24 years ago, says church officials had plenty of time to sound the alarm in St. Louis.
Frobas' story includes a trail of allegations that he sexually abused boys in at least three states during the 1970s and 1980s, ending in Missouri with a guilty plea and two years in prison. He died at age 55 in a Catholic nursing home in Shrewsbury in 1993, pursued by suits and criminal charges from other states.
His tale is one that has become all too familiar as the Roman Catholic Church comes to grips with new disclosures of past sexual abuse - problem priests shuttled from parish to parish, city to city, with the reasons kept secret.
Frobas was ordained in 1966 in Wheeling, W.Va., for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. He came to St. Louis in 1983 for "treatment" - a term his home diocese will not elaborate upon. After a while, he began serving as a visiting priest on weekends at Holy Infant parish in Ballwin and St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Crestwood.
On Aug. 2, 1988, he pleaded guilty in St. Louis County Circuit Court of molesting two boys, then 13 and 15, from Holy Infant. He served 25 months in prison and died of cancer and diabetes on July 11, 1993.
In the months before and after his death, criminal charges in Worcester, Mass., and suits filed in Wheeling accused him of molesting boys during the 1970s - well before he came to St. Louis. It also turned out that Frobas had been in Massachusetts back then for his first round of treatment.
So who in St. Louis knew about his tendency, and when?
Terry Edelmann, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said Friday the office did not have time to review the Frobas case because of the disclosures last week of allegations about other priests. The Post-Dispatch inquired about Frobas in writing on Thursday morning.
On Jan. 1, 1988, an article in the St. Louis Review that reported on Frobas' indictment quoted then-auxiliary Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell, now bishop of Lafayette, La., as saying the archdiocese never was told of anything about Frobas "that would have prevented him from effective parish service." The Review is the official archdiocesan newspaper.
But as he lay dying, Frobas complained to his lawyer that church officials had moved him around from state to state without making much effort to cure him of his sexual disorder, the lawyer said. William J. Shaw, then the county's public defender, remembered the conversations because, he said, Frobas pondered writing a book about himself as a warning to others.
"He was very angry at the church and believed it just shuffled him around to cover up his problem all those years," Shaw said last week. "It was clear to me he was a pedophile. But the church transferring him around, pretending all is well, made for a very sad situation. Maybe we're seeing the end of this."
The woman from Holy Infant said her son, now 29, spent time with Frobas on several occasions in 1985. Not until her family went to police two years later, she said, did any church official admit to her that Frobas had molested before.
"That's when we were told that he had been a pedophile and had been sent here for treatment," said the woman, 64. "Did our pastor know this and, if he did, why would he have let Frobas have any contact with our children? They covered it up, and that makes me mad."
She said she can't remember which priest told her about Frobas' past. Msgr. Adolph Schilly, pastor of Holy Infant until 1984, died two years ago. Neither Msgr. Jerome Buchheit, who replaced Schilly and now is retired, nor the Rev. Robert Rosborough, former assistant at Holy Infant and now pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Valley Park, could be reached for this article.
The woman said she did not want her family's name published. The names of her son and the other victim are in the case file in the courthouse in Clayton but never were made public because Frobas pleaded guilty rather than face trial.
The woman, now a widow, still attends Holy Infant. She said her son has left the Catholic Church.
"He refuses to have anything to do with God," she said. "This is part of what really hurts the parents. They can hide these priests and sweep these things under the rug, but they don't think of the damage that has been done to these boys.
"That's the hurt that eats away at me like a cancer," she said.
Problems in the parishes
David Clohessy, national director of a 3,500-member group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Frobas' trail through three states amounted to a standard practice back then and still occurs today. Clohessy said he was sexually abused by a priest in his native Moberly, Mo., starting when he was 11 until he was 15.
"This was painfully common," said Clohessy, 45. "In recent years, bishops have tried to define it as ancient history. It's more common that priests simply are shifted within their diocese, but we have seen that, the smaller the diocese, the more likely the solution will be to ship him elsewhere.
"When a new priest arrives in a parish, we all tend to trust him," he said. "But, lacking any information from church leaders on backgrounds like this, the trust can prove dangerous."
A clinical psychologist who has worked on the issue with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., said church officials often were too optimistic about the prospects of reforming sex offenders. Gary Schoener, a psychologist in Minneapolis, said now-retired Archbishop John Roach asked him to assist because some offenders had been returned to parish work, only to abuse again.
Schoener said he believed that therapists spent too little time with victims and too much with offenders, often becoming too sympathetic to the priests.
"When the recommendation letters come back, they are mealy-mouthed," Schoener said. "What they don't say is, 'Pull the plug on this guy.' You don't take a chronic alcoholic and turn him into a bartender. That doesn't make sense."
A trail of trouble
This is the tale of Frobas, as related in 10-year-old newspaper articles from other cities, courthouse filings, statements from victims and comments by church spokesmen in Wheeling, Worcester and St. Louis:
Frobas, a native of Philadelphia, served in West Virginia as a parish priest, a counselor at a Catholic youth camp and teacher at the Catholic high school in Wheeling. He allegedly molested a boy, a sophomore, at the school in 1977.
In that same year, Frobas moved to Massachusetts and became a resident of the former House of Affirmation, which was a retreat center near Worcester for priests with psychological disorders. He served as a visiting priest at St. Rose of Lima parish in Northboro, Mass., and organized the altar boys.
He allegedly molested boys there in 1978 and 1979.
The suits and criminal charges alleging the offenses at Wheeling Catholic High School and St. Rose in Northboro weren't filed until 1993 and 1994. Frobas died before he could be prosecuted in Worcester, and the suits in Massachusetts and West Virginia were settled and placed under seal in 1995 and 1996.
Michael Grammer, spokesman for the Wheeling diocese, said he could not find any information in the files explaining why Frobas had gone to the H ouse of Affirmation. (Clohessy said the priest who abused him also had spent time there.)
But Barry W. Houle, 40, of Northboro, said last week that diocesan officials in Worcester had known of Frobas' tendencies since at least the fall of 1978. After Frobas sexually molested him in the St. Rose rectory, Houle said, he grabbed his clothes, fled and told his parents that night.
Houle said he and his parents spoke the next day to the Rev. Timothy J. Harrington, then auxiliary bishop of Worcester and, a few days later, to the director of the House of Affirmation.
"I told them exactly what Frobas had done to me," Houle said. "Harrington said, 'You don't have to go to the authorities.' He promised that he would deal with the matter. I never was an altar boy again. I found out much later that Frobas stayed several more months and molested more boys."
Houle said he received money in a settlement but is barred from disclosing how much. Harrington is deceased. Raymond L. Deslisle, spokesman for the Worcester diocese, said he couldn't find out when officials there learned of the allegations of abuse.
Frobas' whereabouts from 1979 to 1983 could not be determined for this article. Grammer said the Wheeling diocese placed Frobas on "sick leave" and sent him here but declined to reveal the reason for the leave.
"Our bishop considers the matter closed, Grammer said.
The 1988 article in the St. Louis Review said Frobas had gone to St. Michael's Center in Sunset Hills. The Servants of the Paraclete, a Cathol ic religious order, runs the center and treats priests and brothers who suffer from alcoholism, depression and other disorders.
The Paracletes also run the St. Jean Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer in Jefferson County, the current residence of six priests and brothers who were convicted of sex-related offenses across the country.
The Review said Frobas completed his treatment at St. Michael's, moved to a retreat house next to the Vianney Center and began working part time at local parishes. The Rev. Peter Lechner of Sunset Hills, servant general of the Paracletes, said he could not discuss particular cases or confirm whether any priest ever has been at one of its centers.
Lechner said he believed the medical and counseling professions are better now than in the 1980s at predicting the likelihood that someone would offend again.
The mother said she remembered Frobas as a dynamic preacher. Her first hint of trouble was when Frobas came by their home one day and asked if her son could go with him on an errand.
"My son said, 'I don't want to go. Mom, don't make me go,'" she said. "Abuse never came into my mind. That didn't come up until later, when the other boy spoke to his parents, and they talked to us."
The indictment accused Frobas of sexually molesting the two boys at the St. Elizabeth rectory, where he had a room, and at a motel on South Lindbergh Boulevard. He received a four-year sentence.
At the court hearing, Frobas said, "I guess I'm glad all this is happening, because it's been a nightmare state for me, having done what I've done. . . . I am guilty."
Something else also bothers the mother and Houle in Massachusetts.
The woman said her family received a letter on July 14, 1992, from the late Rev. John L. May, then St. Louis archbishop. It expressed condolences, asserted that the archdiocese was not responsible for Frobas' conduct - and referred to him as "the late Fr. Victor Frobas."
The woman said she didn't know until last week that Frobas didn't die until 1993. Houle said diocesan officials in Worcester also told him prior to Frobas' death that he already was deceased.
"When I found out I was lied to, I got his death certificate from Missouri," said Houle. "I still have it. I want to be sure."
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