More Men Accuse Schwaegel of Misconduct
Sex Allegations Lawsuit Set for Trial in October

By Beth Gansmann
Belleville News-Democrat
September 15, 2002

An affidavit in federal court states a former Belleville Diocese monsignor has at least three more men accusing him of sexual misconduct.

The affidavit, which was signed by Vicar General James Margason, was filed in a U.S. District Court lawsuit against Monsignor Joseph Schwaegel and the diocese. The case is set for trial in October.

Margason confirmed Friday that at least three other men -- who were all adults at the time of the allegations -- have come forward to diocese officials and accused Schwaegel, the former pastor of St. Peter's Cathedral in Belleville. The men accused him of "improper sexual activity."

None of the men were members of Schwaegel's parish, Margason said. At least one of the men continues to receive counseling offered by the church.

Schwaegel was popular as a priest and widely known for his musical talents. He recorded three albums of Christian music and sings regularly at local establishments.

He was sued by a 37-year-old man who contends he was molested by the "singing priest" Schwaegel 20 years ago.

Jeph Hemmer, the plaintiff in the federal lawsuit, alleges Schwaegel molested him when he was an 8-year-old Catholic schoolboy attending the Cathedral Grade School in Belleville.

Schwaegel, who could not be reached, has admitted he's a sexual addict, but also denied he ever targeted children.

The court file shows reluctance by the diocese to turn over documents to Hemmer's attorneys, claiming the documents are protected under the law.

"In reviewing the documents, the court is troubled by the wide-ranging claims of privilege raised by the defendants in an effort to protect these documents from disclosure," wrote U.S. Magistrate Gerald Cohn. "In reviewing the documents, the court was surprised by how irrelevant many of these documents are to the action before the court and the efforts made to assert a privilege to them."

Hemmer's attorney Frederic Nessler requested more than 100 documents from the diocese in the discovery process of the lawsuit. The diocese and Schwaegel's attorneys requested a protective order to prevent Nessler from gaining control of them.

"(The defendants) allegations of 'embarrassment' to certain undisclosed third parties is so general as to not outweigh the interests served by potential public access and (Hemmer's) ability to fully investigate his claim," Nessler wrote in a motion Feb. 28.

"Defendants should not be allowed the privilege of a protective order when, again, it was the privacy of which they speak that encouraged the abuse of Jeph Hemmer. The fox cannot guard the chicken house," Nessler wrote.

Nessler did not return calls for comment.

In his complaint, Hemmer claimed Schwaegel molested and sodomized him in St. Peter's rectory in Belleville in 1972, then intimidated him into silence by "frightening, paranoid-inducing, confusing, intimidating and deliberate God-fearing admonishments."

"Schwaegel admonished (Hemmer) about the evils of women and to not tell of the sexual contact," the complaint states.

Schwaegel was twice arrested for sexual misconduct with men in 1987 and 1993.

"This disclosure is additionally significant in light of Schwaegel's public statement that he was in therapy for a sexual dysfunction that resulted in two arrests involving male adults, thus indicating his sexual orientation," Margason's affidavit said.

The Diocese of Belleville also was named in the lawsuit because the diocese allegedly knew about Schwaegel's abuse in 1972, but ignored and covered up the abuse, according to the complaint.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.