Webster Groves Man Sues Ex-Priest, Archdiocese; Abuse in 1977 Is Alleged
Former Pastor Pleaded Guilty in Another Case of Sexually Molesting Boy

By Tim Bryant
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 8, 2002

Matthew Layton said Thursday that when he was 14, a Catholic priest took him to a school coat room, produced a pingpong paddle, and told him to pull down his pants.

Layton, now 39, of Webster Groves, said he believed that perhaps because he had just been to confession, the priest planned to spank him. Instead, he said, the priest sodomized him.

The abuse by the then-Rev. Joseph D. Ross took place in spring 1977 at St. Williams School in Woodson Terrace, Layton said Thursday in announcing a lawsuit against Ross, 59, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

Among the claims in the suit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, are sexual abuse by Ross, infliction of emotional distress and failure by the archdiocese to supervise its clergy. It seeks unspecified damages.

The archdiocese declined Thursday to discuss Layton's claims, saying its policy is not to comment on pending legal matters. In a brief statement, the archdiocese noted that the church laicized - that is, removed Ross from the priesthood - in August.

That step was the result of Ross' actions that included pleading guilty in 1988 of sexually molesting an 11-year-old boy during confession at Christ the King Church in University City. From 1991 to this year, Ross was pastor at St. Cronan Catholic Church in St. Louis.

Under laicization, a priest is returned to the status of layman and the diocese no longer financially supports him. Ross could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Layton told reporters that he recalled the abuse in March after reading Post-Dispatch stories about allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Ross is mentioned in some of the stories.

"I hope that by me coming forward it will resonate with someone else and let him or her realize that they are not alone; they can move on," Layton said.

He said abuse by Ross began in 1975 when Layton was an altar boy at St. Williams Church and Ross was associate pastor there.

Back pats and hugs from Ross progressed to sexual abuse, Layton said. He said he now recalls that after Ross sodomized him in a school coat room in 1977, he told the priest that what he had done was wrong.

His lawyer, Patrick Noaker, said Layton's suit cannot be defeated by a statute of limitations. Even if Missouri's former statute of limitations of two years - instead of the current five-year limit - applies, Layton's suit survives because neither countdown would begin until he recalled the abuse, Noaker said.

Layton's "repressed memory" condition "basically partitioned off the memory of the trauma" until it was triggered in March, the lawyer said.

But the Missouri Court of Appeals rejected a repressed-memory claim in an unrelated but similar lawsuit here.

In 1999, a St. Louis jury awarded $1.2 million in damages to a man who claimed he had repressed the memory of sexual abuse by a priest. But the next year, the appeals court reversed the award, finding that plaintiff Henry Bachmann, of Port Wentworth, Ga., was not entitled to extension of the statute of limitations.


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