St. Louis documents date priest sex-abuse complaints to 1940s

Friday, January 31, 2014 | 8:11 p.m. CST

ST. LOUIS — Documents released by the Archdiocese of St. Louis as part of a civil lawsuit show that 16 church employees had at least five sex-abuse complaints made against them in the decades before such cases were publicly known.

The archdiocese released the information while fighting demands for further disclosures in a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim of the since-defrocked the Rev. Joseph Ross. The records show Ross was among seven priests who were accused of abuse by five different people. Two individuals had 15 complaints each.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that nearly half of the 240 abuse complaints against 115 priests and other church employees received over a 20-year period were made in 2002, the year the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal erupted across the country. The incidents dated back as far as the 1940s.

The church document does not reveal individual names of the accused employees or alleged victims.

Victim advocates who have begun to review the church documents question the accuracy of the records.

"It flies in the face of evidence all around the country," said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "I think it's safe to say that in the overwhelming majority of cases that we're aware of here and elsewhere, church officials got reports of abuse, kept the predators on the job, got more reports of abuse and then eventually removed them."

Clohessy pointed to the case of Michael McGrath, who was laicized in January 2005 after a string of abuse allegation over three decades. With nearly 30 claims filed against him, McGrath is the most-sued of St. Louis priests. Clohessy said that the archdiocese spreadsheet does not detail anything that extensive.

Nearly a third of the complaints resulted in unspecified settlements. Slightly more were either deemed "unsubstantiated" or apparently dropped because the accuser didn't follow up.

A church spokeswoman declined to discuss the records, citing the ongoing litigation. The archdiocese provided the information to comply with a trial judge's order but has asked the Missouri Supreme Court to spare it from having to release specific names to the plaintiff's lawyers. Even if that happens, the names would remain under seal, inaccessible to the public. That appeal is pending.

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