Jefferson County Man Sues Archdiocese, Ex-Scout Leader

By Elizabethe Holland
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
July 20, 2005

A Jefferson County man sued the St. Louis Archdiocese, Archbishop Raymond Burke and a former Boy Scout leader Tuesday, claiming that a priest and the Boy Scout leader molested him during an outing in the early 1970s.

The lawsuit, filed by a man identified as John Doe CT1, claims that the Rev. Norman Christian and former Scout leader Robert E. Oberle of Festus sexually molested the man when he was 12 or 13. It says the church covered up and concealed abuse of young parishioners by Christian, allowing for more abuse.

The archdiocese removed Christian from the ministry in 1995 after another allegation of sexual abuse. The priest died in October at age 69.

Oberle, who was named as a witness to sexual abuse in two other recent lawsuits, would not comment on the case when reached by phone Tuesday. Oberle, 70, lives in Festus.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, several members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests held a news conference and delivered a letter to the Boy Scouts of America's St. Louis office in the Central West End. The letter expressed frustration with the organization's response to complaints involving Oberle.

The Boy Scouts revoked Oberle's membership in April following another lawsuit, according to Joe Mueller, the organization's director of public relations. Mueller said Oberle had been a "unit commissioner" -- a coach of sorts who helps other adults put on Scout programs.

Oberle's revocation wasn't enough, argued SNAP's executive director, David Clohessy.

"We've spent two months patiently, quietly, hopefully talking with them about them taking some step to warn other people about Robert Oberle, and they've apparently chosen not to do so," Clohessy said. "We believe that the Scouts and the church have a moral obligation to reach out to anybody else who might have been a witness or might have experienced abuse, and especially anybody else who might be at risk today."

A statement from the Boy Scouts said the organization has taken reasonable and appropriate action. "But they (SNAP) are asking the Boy Scouts to take steps that are neither reasonable nor appropriate under these circumstances. The Boy Scouts of America is not a law enforcement or investigative body."

The statement added that the organization has a strong policy aimed at protecting the welfare of its Scouts.

In John Doe's case, he and several other boys were invited to go swimming at a creek with Oberle and Christian, according to the man's attorney, Ken Chackes. Christian -- a pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Crystal City at the time -- and Oberle initiated skinny dipping, after which Oberle allegedly sexually molested the plaintiff in a pickup truck, Chackes said. Christian then came along and molested the boy as well, Chackes said.

The plaintiff, now 47, said he told his father of the incident but that his father didn't believe him. Years later, when reports of abuse spilled out of the Boston Archdiocese, the man told other family members and eventually decided to come forward, he said.

"I want him to admit what he did, I want him to pay for his crime, and I want to find out if there were any victims in Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, and I want them to come forward," he said Tuesday. "I have four grandchildren myself and I don't need anything like this happening to them."

Christian has been the subject of a handful of other lawsuits alleging sexual abuse. Oberle has been named at least twice before.

In May, a man sued the archdiocese and Oberle, claiming that Christian had sexually abused him in the early 1970s. Oberle was named because he allegedly witnessed some of the abuse and did nothing to help the boy.

In April, two other men sued the archdiocese and Oberle over similar claims.

In December, the archdiocese settled a suit with a man who claimed to have been victimized 30 years ago by Christian.

From 1961 until his removal from the church in 1995, Christian served at seven churches, according to the archdiocese: Sacred Heart, St. George in Affton, St. Peter's in Kirkwood, Ascension in Normandy, Nativity in St. Louis, St. Adalbert in St. Louis and St. William in Woodson Terrace.


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