Second Priest in Letter Named

By Leicht Linda
Springfield News-Leader
March 19, 2002

Amel Shibley of a Fredericktown parish is one of three investigated.

The Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese confirmed the name of a second priest Monday who has been investigated for allegations of sexual abuse of minors here during the past 17 years.

Amel Shibley, administrator at St. Michael parish in Fredericktown, is the second of the three to be identified.

Over the weekend, priests throughout the diocese read a statement from Bishop John J. Leibrecht to parishioners explaining that, during the 17 years he has served the diocese, he has dealt with three priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors.

In 1984 Leibrecht followed Bishop Bernard Law, who moved to Boston as archbishop, then cardinal. Law is under pressure for transferring Massachusetts priests from one parish to another after they had been accused of sexual abuse.

In the letter he had priests read over the weekend, Leibrecht said, "One situation needing attention predated my arrival and the other two occurred since my coming." The bishop added that the three priests "no longer have faculties for priestly ministry because of their inappropriate behavior with minors. No priest in this diocese, culpable in the past for sexual abuse of minors, can have parish responsibilities."

Diocese spokeswoman Marilyn Vydra confirmed for the News-Leader on Sunday that priest Leonard Chambers was one of the three priests.

On Monday, she confirmed that Shibley had been investigated after the News-Leader inquired about his past, at the suggestion of a reader. Vydra would not, however, say what churches Shibley had served as a priest, or where the allegation of inappropriate behavior occurred. Nor would she divulge the name of the remaining priest mentioned by Leibrecht.

Chambers served as the first priest for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Springfield in 1981 when he was accused of abuse. Law sent him to 10 months of therapy in New Mexico, then placed him in two more parishes in the diocese. Leibrecht ordered Chambers to retire in 1998.

The Chambers case is the only such incident that has surfaced during the 11 years Law served as bishop of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese.

Vydra would not release any additional information about Shibley, his parish appointments or the complaint. The Web site for St. Michael lists him as administrator. No one answered phone calls to the church and a message left on an answering machine was not returned.

Leibrecht, who was out of Springfield on Monday, would not respond to requests for a phone interview. Vydra said he would speak to the media today.

Vydra said removing "faculties" for priestly ministry means the priest cannot perform Mass. It does not mean he is removed from the priesthood. Only the Vatican can defrock a priest, she said.

None of the accusations was taken to police or other authorities, Vydra said. Counseling for some of the victims was paid for by the diocese, she said, but no lawsuits have been filed in connection with the incidents.

Jill Drennan, director of education at the Victim Center in Springfield, said those accusations should have been reported to authorities. Anyone who works with children is a "mandated reporter," she said, adding that the bishop would be one.

"I want these people to be prosecuted, whether they're a mom or dad or bishop or minister," Drennan said.

Alice Verfurth, a founding member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish, said handling accusations against priests is "a responsibility the bishop has to accept." Verfurth remembers working with Chambers when he held Mass in a roller rink and oversaw the organization of the new parish, now on West Republic Road.

"He was very much in control," she said. "He was very strong. He knew exactly how to get things done."

She also praised his sermons: "That part of him was absolutely wonderful and good."

Verfurth said she was aware of the accusations against Chambers in 1981, and she questions the practice of transferring priests accused of inappropriate behavior to other parishes.

"That's wrong," she said. "He should be treated and dealt with. Put him in other duties."

Now a member at Immaculate Conception, Verfurth called the issue of pedophile priests "the way that Satan is attacking the church ... through the priests."

Verfurth also pointed out that sexual abuse is evident in all professions.

"It isn't the church," she said, "it's individuals. I believe 100 percent in the holiness of the church itself . ... The church itself is holy and we will stand firm to the end and we will be loyal."

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Leonard Chambers

*Born Oct. 24, 1938; raised in Wilhelmina in the Bootheel.

*Ordained in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese Aug. 3, 1965 by then-Bishop Ignatius Strecker.

*Served in associate positions within the diocese until 1974 when then-Bishop Bernard Law appointed him parish priest at St. Suzanne's in Mount Vernon.

*1976 - St. Francis DeSales, Lebanon.

*1981 - St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Springfield. There, accusations of sexual abuse of a minor sent him to a psychiatric center for Catholic priests in Jemez Springs, N.M., where he spent 10 months in treatment.

*1983 - Sacred Heart, Salem.

*1984 - St. Mary's, Pierce City.

*1986 - Our Lady of the Cove, Kimberling City.

*1989 - Holy Family, Shell Knob.

*1996 - St. Peter the Apostle, Joplin.

*1998 - ordered to retire after admitting he violated a restriction that he not be alone with children.


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