Diocese Announces Sweeping Changes in Sex-Abuse Policies
Bishop's Vow: the Secrecy Will Stop
John Leibrecht Joins Catholic Officials across the Nation in Promising to Deal with Allegations

By Leicht Linda
Springfield News-Leader
March 20, 2002

Recognizing the Catholic church must nationally move to begin the painful process of dealing with sex-abuse complaints, Bishop John Leibrecht on Tuesday said he's ending the era of secrecy that shrouds such allegations.

Among the changes Leibrecht said he is making in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese:

*New charges will be handled immediately, and parishes will be informed when such charges are leveled.

*The diocese will be more open to reporting allegations to civil authorities.

*Priests who sexually abuse minors will not be allowed to do work in a parish and will be stripped of the right to celebrate Mass.

"He could never, ever function again in his whole life," Leibrecht said of any such priest.

This is a national issue, Leibrecht said. Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of the Boston diocese and former bishop in Springfield, has been under fire for his policy of moving pedophile priests from parish to parish. There are growing demands for his resignation, including the latest from former Education Secretary and Catholic conservative William J. Bennett.

"Priests - including Cardinal Law - who have been involved in these cover-ups must be removed from positions of authority," Bennett wrote in Monday's Wall Street Journal.

"I pray for him every day," said Leibrecht, who does not foresee Law resigning. "He's trying to do the right thing now. ... His days must be very difficult and long."

Feeling some of the same scrutiny, bishops all over the country are dealing with similar problems and making announcements like Leibrecht's.

New York's Catholic leaders Tuesday were dealing with the disclosure that a priest placed on leave after allegedly molesting a boy in 1997 is working at another church. In Nebraska, six lawsuits are pending in state courts over a former Omaha priest convicted in 1998 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old altar boy. And in Bridgeport, Conn., a prosecutor is investigating whether the diocese didn't report possible child abuse, as required by law there.

In an effort to comprehensively deal with the problem, Leibrecht said, seminaries will screen applicants more closely. Applicants will get additional testing for psychological and sexual make-up, to see if they have the maturity to deal with a life of celibacy. Seminaries are also adding programs dealing with sexuality.

Issue hits home

Leibrecht also released the names of three priests he has dealt with over sex misconduct allegations in his 17 years here. Two had already been reported by the News-Leader. The third is Lawrence E. Gregovich, 57, retired in 1992 from St. Mary parish in Joplin.

All three priests have been retired and their "faculties for priestly ministry" have been removed - which means they are not able to perform Mass, Leibrecht said.

*Gregovich, was retired after accusations surfaced from his service as pastor of Immaculate Conception in New Madrid between 1982 and 1985. Three male victims have come forward, the diocese said.

*Amel Antonine Shibley, 73, was retired in 1995, when he was pastor of St. Lawrence parish in New Hamburg, after two separate accusations involving male minors surfaced dating from the mid-1980s when he was at St. Francis Xavier parish in Sikeston. The bishop asked him to serve as part-time administrator at St. Michael parish in Fredericktown in 1997. While there, he performed Mass. On March 3, Leibrecht removed Shibley from that position and has removed his faculties.

*Leonard R. Chambers Jr. was retired in 1998 when he was serving as pastor at St. Peter parish in Joplin. The diocese said he admitted to sexual abuse of a male minor in 1981 when he was pastor of the newly established parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Springfield, and received 10 months of counseling in New Mexico. Law, who was then bishop here, moved Chambers to two other parishes after his therapy, placing no restriction on him regarding association with minors. Leibrecht, who appointed Chambers to three more parishes after he took office in 1984, placed restrictions on the priest. A complaint against Chambers in 1998, while he was serving as pastor of his final parish in Joplin, led to his admission that he had been alone with a male minor. Leibrecht then ordered his retirement.

"I said, that's it," Leibrecht recalled.

Openness promised

The church offered counseling to all the victims in the cases. Some accepted, the bishop said.

"A small settlement was paid on one," he said. He said the agreement prohibited him from discussing the amount or which case it was.

On the advice of diocesan counsel, none of the cases involving the three priests were turned over to civil authorities, Leibrecht said.

He said in the three cases above, the victims and their families did not want to prosecute.

"Victims come at this from different ways," he said. But the church's position on privacy may change. "In the future, we will be much more open to reporting things."

Kevin Fitzgerald, who has served as the diocese's lawyer for the past two years, said each accusation of sexual impropriety by a priest would be handled individually. "Every case does have to be looked at on a case-by-case basis," Fitzgerald said. "There are numerous factors that we have to look at, anything from what the facts are as to the occurrence, where they occurred, the victim's wishes."

Fitzgerald said he has not handled any sexual abuse cases involving children for the diocese, but he is looking at options.

"We are considering everything now," he said. "Because of all the attention to this, we are looking at anything and everything."

The church's responsibility to report such cases is not always clear. Greene County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jill Geary said state law prohibits priests from testifying in court about information received in their "capacity as spiritual advisor." But, the law does not prohibit clergy from reporting abuse, she said.

"It comes down to the ethics of the choice," Geary said.

Geary and Leibrecht agree that secrecy can be damaging.

"Secrecy is part of the problem," Leibrecht said.

"These are crimes of secrecy," Geary said. "Secrecy is the whole theme of this kind of crime."

News-Leader wire services contributed to this story.

Information about 3 removed priests

Three of the 102 priests Bishop John Leibrecht has worked with in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese in the past 17 years have been removed from their positions and ordered to retire because they sexually abused minors, Leibrecht said.

Those three priests had served in 29 of the 85 parishes and missions in the diocese during the past 40 years. Out of 62,000 parishioners, six victims have come forward.

The following information was provided or confirmed by the bishop or the diocese:


Lawrence E. Gregovich was the first of the three Leibrecht ordered to retire after learning in 1992 that he had sexually abused three boys.

Gregovich, 57, was ordained in 1972 by then-Bishop William W. Baum.

His first assignment was as an associate pastor at St. Mary parish in Joplin, the same parish he was serving at the end of his career.

After six years at St. Mary, Gregovich was sent to Immaculate Conception in Springfield where he served as associate pastor for one year.

He got his first pastorate in 1979 at Sacred Heart in Verona, staying there for three years before he was assigned to Immaculate Conception in New Madrid. He served there from 1982 to 1985.

That is when he sexually abused three boys.

While in New Madrid, Gregovich also served as assistant administer at St. Henry parish in Charleston.

He returned to his first parish, St. Mary, in 1985 and continued there as pastor until 1992 when a family came forward with accusations against their former priest in New Madrid.

Leibrecht, who said the family told him they had not reported the abuse before, immediately called for Gregovich's retirement.

His faculties to perform priestly duties, such as celebrating Mass, have since been removed.

Gregovich is now in a nursing home in Carthage and unavailable for comment.


Amel Antonine Shibley, 73, was ordained in 1962 by then-Bishop Charles H. Helmsing.

That same year he served first at St. Lawrence parish in New Hamburg and then at St. Francis Xavier in Sikeston as associate pastor.

In 1967, he served as associate at St. Agnes Cathedral in Springfield for seven months before getting an assignment as pastor at St. Catherine of Siena in Piedmont and its missions - St. George in Van Buren and Our Lady of Sorrows in Williamsville.

In 1969, he moved to St. Ann in Malden where he served for two years before moving to St. Eustachius in Portageville.

Five years later he returned to Sikeston where he served as pastor from 1976 to 1992.

It was during that time that he sexually abused two boys.

He was serving as pastor at New Hamburg in 1993 when Leibrecht received the first of two letters accusing Shibley of sexual abuse dating back to the mid-1980s. Shibley admitted his guilt, Leibrecht said.

At that time, Leibrecht allowed Shibley to stay on at St. Lawrence parish but put restrictions on his activity. He was not allowed to be alone with children.

In 1995, a second letter arrived detailing another case. This time, the bishop ordered Shibley to retire.

But two years later, Leibrecht asked the priest to return to part-time duties, serving as administrator at St. Michael parish in Fredericktown.

On March 3, Shibley was removed from that position and his faculties to perform as a priest have been removed.

Shibley recently suffered a heart attack, the diocese said.


Leonard R. Chambers Jr., 53, was ordained in 1965 by then-Bishop Ignatius Strecker. His first assignment was as assistant pastor at St. Mary parish in Pierce City, then temporary administrator at Sacred Heart in Webb City and, in August 1966, as assistant pastor at St. Peter parish in Joplin, the parish where he would end his career.

He moved from Joplin to St. Mary Cathedral in Cape Girardeau in 1968, and to Holy Trinity in Springfield in 1969, both places as associate pastor.

In October 1969, he became administrator at St. Joseph the Worker parish in Ozark. In May 1973, he took on the same position at St. Joseph parish in Advance and St. Anthony mission in Glennon.

The next year he was given his first pastorate at St. Susanne parish in Mount Vernon, while also serving as administrator of St. Patrick mission in Greenfield. In 1976 he became pastor of St. Francis De Sales parish in Lebanon.

On July 1, 1981, Chambers became the pastor of the newly established parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Springfield.

That is where he sexually abused a teen-age boy.

Then-Bishop Bernard Law sent Chambers to the Fitzgerald Center in Jemez Springs, N.M., in August of 1982 where the Servants of the Paraclete work with priests and brothers "with personal difficulties."

He returned 10 months later to serve as pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Salem, as well as Christ the King mission in Bunker and St. Jude Chapel in Montauk.

Within a year he was reassigned as administrator and later pastor of St. Mary parish in Pierce City.

He moved again within two years, in August 1985, to Our Lady of the Cove parish in Kimberling City and Holy Family parish in Shell Knob.

It was during that assignment that Leibrecht placed restrictions on Chambers that prohibited him from being alone with children.

In 1996, Chambers was assigned as pastor of St. Peter parish, back in Joplin again.

Two years later, a complaint by a parent led Chambers to admit he had been alone with a boy, although no abuse took place.

Leibrecht then ordered his retirement. His faculties have also been removed.

Chambers is living in Joplin. He refused comment when the News-Leader contacted him by phone.


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