17 report abuse by former priest

Survivors’ group says more than 200 people in Missouri have reported sexual abuse by clergy.
Sunday, February 13, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Five more people have come forward stating they were abused by former priest John Degnan, said Sister Ethel Marie Biri of the Diocese of Jefferson City. Seventeen abuse cases have been reported to the diocese as of Friday.

The diocese made announcements Jan. 15 at the Montgomery City parish and Jan. 22 at Pilot Grove, Boonville and Westphalia that Degnan, who turns 80 this week, might have sexually abused at least a dozen boys during the 1960s and 1970s in mid-Missouri parishes. They asked those who knew of such abuse to come forward.

No lawsuit has been filed. “It’s certainly a possibility, but we’ve not been contacted yet,” Biri said.

When contacted, the diocese tells alleged abuse victims they can contact law enforcement. The diocese also commits to helping abused individuals by offering support and therapy.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests learned about Degnan from a couple of families last week and wrote a letter to the diocese that prompted the diocese’s formal announcement Tuesday in Jefferson City.

David Clohessy, coordinator of the St. Louis branch of the survivors’ network, said 200 people in Missouri have contacted the organization for help dealing with being victimized by clergy, most by Catholic clergy.

“But that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface,” Clohessy said.

Clohessy said one reason people delay coming forward about abuse is they convince themselves they are recovered from it.

“Often it takes decades of pain or failure before victims can admit to themselves that their horrible childhood still affects them today,” Clohessy said. “People convince themselves it’s over and done, but often it eats away and haunts them in ways they don’t understand until adulthood.”

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