Frobas Case 'Painfully Common'

Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
March 12, 2002

As the Rev. Victor A. Frobas lay dying in a St. Louis nursing home in 1993, he complained that the Roman Catholic Church had moved him around from state to state without making much effort to cure him of his sexual disorder, according to his lawyer.

"He was very angry at the church, and believed it just shuffled him around to cover up his problem all those years," said William J. Shaw, who was then St. Louis County's public defender.

"It was clear to me he was a pedophile," Mr. Shaw told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a news report in yesterday's editions. "But the church transferring him around, pretending all is well, made for a very sad situation. Maybe we're seeing the end of this."

Rev. Frobas was convicted in August 1988 of molesting two boys, ages 13 and 15, at a parish in suburban St. Louis. In 1993 in Massachusetts, he was indicted by a Worcester County grand jury on charges that included three counts of unnatural rape of a child, three counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, one count of assault and battery, and one charge of committing unnatural and lascivious acts.

Then-Gov. William F. Weld's office was attempting to extradite Rev. Frobas to Massachusetts when the priest died. He was being treated for diabetes, cancer and heart disease at the time of his death.

After his 1988 conviction in St. Louis, Rev. Frobas was quoted as saying, "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."

His story includes a trail of allegations that he sexually abused boys during the 1970s and 1980s, ending in Missouri with his guilty plea.

In the months before and after Rev. Frobas' death, criminal charges in Worcester, and lawsuits filed in Worcester and Wheeling, W.Va., accused him of molesting boys during the 1970s. It also turned out that Rev. Frobas had been in Whitinsville, Mass., undergoing treatment and counseling at the former House of Affirmation.

A January 1988 article in the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis newspaper quoted then-auxiliary Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell as saying the archdiocese never was told of anything about Rev. Frobas "that would have prevented him from effective parish service."

David Clohessy, national director of the 3,500-member Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Rev. Frobas' trail through three states amounted to a standard practice back then and still occurs today. Mr. Clohessy said he was sexually abused by a priest in his native Moberly, Mo., starting when he was 11 and until he was 15.

"This was painfully common," Mr. Clohessy, 45, told the Post-Dispatch. "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."

While teaching at a Catholic high school in Wheeling, Mr. Frobas allegedly molested a sophomore at the school in 1977. Later that year, he moved to Massachusetts and lived at the former House of Affirmation. While there, 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. Suits were filed in Worcester Superior Court by Robert Malo, now 37 and serving a sentence at the Worcester House of Correction for child abuse, and Barry Houle, 40, of Northboro, both of whom were altar boys at the Northboro parish.

The Massachusetts and West Virginia lawsuits were settled and ordered sealed in 1995 and 1996.

Mr. Houle said last week that the Catholic Diocese of Worcester had known of Rev. Frobas' tendencies since at least the fall of 1978. After Rev. Frobas sexually molested him in the St. Rose rectory, Mr. Houle said, he told his parents that night. Mr. Houle said he and his parents spoke the next day to then-Auxiliary Bishop Timothy J. Harrington and, a few days later, to the director of the House of Affirmation.

"I told them exactly what Frobas had done to me," Mr. 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."

Mr. Houle said he received money in a settlement but is barred from disclosing how much. Bishop Harrington is deceased.

Something else bothers Mr. Houle. He said diocesan officials in Worcester told him before Rev. Frobas' death that he already was deceased.

"When I found out I was lied to, I got his death certificate from Missouri," Mr. Houle said. "I still have it. I want to be sure."


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