ST. LOUIS • The dismissal of criminal charges filed against the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang stunned many people Friday, including the St. Louis priest.
“He was crying so hard because he was so happy about the charges being dropped,” said Bill Hannegan, 56, a supporter whose family has been communicating with Jiang since his arrest last year on allegations of child endangerment and witness tampering.
Jiang, 30, who has been on leave from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, was accused of having improper contact with a teenage girl from Lincoln County. She and her family attended the cathedral where Jiang was associate pastor.
Circuit Judge Chris Kunza Mennemeyer, of Lincoln and Pike counties, wrote an order to dismiss the child endangerment charge Nov. 18 based on an argument that Jiang was never alone with the alleged victim, a court official said.
On the same day, prosecutor Leah Askey filed for dismissal of the witness tampering charge — Jiang had been accused of leaving a $20,000 check for the family as hush money.
A trial date had been set in Pike County and then recently cancelled. Pike County Clerk Jerri Harrelson said Friday that the case was officially dismissed from the court record Thursday.
The case has sent shock waves through area Catholics over the past year and a half.
Jiang has been closely tied to St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson since Jiang came to the U.S. as a young seminarian from China in 2006. As part of the criminal case, Carlson was questioned in a deposition.
The dismissal of charges didn’t come with a full exoneration. A civil case remains active.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, released a statement Friday disputing Jiang’s innocence and calling on more people to stand up against him and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
“This is not going to go away,” Hannegan said. “SNAP is going to keep attacking. We want to see Father’s name fully cleared, and the legal system isn’t set up to do that.”
Jiang could not be reached directly Friday, but he declined comment earlier this week to the Post-Dispatch.
A representative of the alleged victim’s family also declined comment, asking Friday for a chance to “catch my breath” on the developments.
The archdiocese released a brief statement that said Jiang’s suspension from priestly duties would be reviewed.
The statement encouraged “all persons with reports of misconduct with a minor involving a member of the clergy or other church personnel” to contact police, the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-392-3738, or Deacon Phil Hengen, director of Child and Youth Protection, at 314-792-7704.
Though the criminal case has been dismissed, civil claims filed by the family will probably continue to be a headache for the archdiocese.
The active lawsuit says Carlson and the archdiocese failed to supervise Jiang. The lawsuit claims Jiang had inappropriate contact with the teenage girl, bought her expensive gifts and encouraged her to look more like a woman than a child. The suit says there are emails and text messages between the two that support the claims.
The archdiocese has argued in court that the civil case be dismissed, partly on grounds that the alleged abuse happened away from church property.
Nicole Gorovsky, an attorney representing the family, previously said Jiang used his influence as a priest to gain access to the devout Catholic family.
“He groomed the whole family, expertly,” she said.
Reached Friday, she said the dismissal of the criminal case wouldn’t hurt the civil case because there was a different legal standard.
“Our case is a strong one,” she said.
Still, people such as Hannegan, and others in the group “Friends of Fr. Joseph,” swear by his innocence and see him as a leader of the “resurgence” in Catholicism.
According to the St. Louis Archdiocese, a Vatican representative in Hong Kong helped Jiang get out of China after he spoke out against the government for appointing bishops in that country. Carlson was asked to accept him as a seminarian when Carlson was previously bishop in Saginaw, Mich. After following Carlson’s path in the Midwest, Jiang was ordained in St. Louis in 2010.
As an associate pastor assigned to the New Cathedral on Lindell Boulevard, he made a name for himself for being particularly holy, said Deborah Lee, 48, of Maplewood, a recent convert to Catholicism.
“If he is a manipulator, a liar, then he is the best one in the world,” she said.
The Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters at Mount Grace Convent, a cloistered community in north St. Louis, were also impressed by Jiang. Sister Superior Mary Catherine Smith said she had asked him to celebrate Mass there several times.
“His homilies were very spiritual, very good for a young man,” she said.
She thought he was on a path to study diplomacy in Rome. Then, one day, a church official asked the sisters to pray for Jiang because he’d been arrested.
“We are still praying for him, praying that the truth will be out,” Smith said earlier this week, before the news hit. “We are hoping that his name can be cleared.”