Pioneer Press: The Archdiocese of St. Louis announced a confidential settlement in a priest sex-abuse case scheduled to go to trial Monday but questioned the truth of a 22-year-old woman’s statement that she was molested as a young girl.
The settlement for an undisclosed amount of money in the suit against defrocked Catholic priest Joseph Ross also spared the archdiocese from possible public disclosure of further details on hundreds of abuse complaints against its employees over decades.
The woman, identified in court documents only as Jane Doe, had accused Ross of molesting her as a small girl between 1997 and 2001 while she attended the St. Cronan parish on the city’s south side. The archdiocese announced the settlement just as jury selection in the civil trial was set to begin.
The St. Louis archbishop, Robert J. Carlson, served previously as a bishop in the Twin Cities. From 1979 to 1994 he served as a top handler of priest sexual-abuse cases in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, attorney Jeffrey Anderson said.
Anderson deposed Carlson in May for both the St. Louis case as well as the case of John Doe 1 in Ramsey County District Court. In the latter deposition, Carlson responded nearly 200 times that he could not remember details of priest child abuse cases he dealt with during his work in Minnesota.
Ross, the defrocked priest in the St. Louis case, had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old University City, Mo., boy in 1988 but was assigned to St. Cronan after receiving medical treatment at a facility for priests and serving two years of probation. Five others came forward in 2002 after Ross was removed from the clergy.
The woman’s lawyers had planned to introduce evidence from other abuse complaints after the archdiocese was ordered to turn over records in those cases. Church records detailed 240 complaints against 115 priests and other church employees dating back to the 1940s, though the records did not list the names of the accused.
In a statement elaborating on the settlement, archdiocese administrator Katie Pesha said the woman is afflicted with an unspecified “medical condition that causes her to falsify claims, exaggerate symptoms and make inconsistent statements.”
“Her own doctors and expert witnesses voiced doubts about her allegations and noted that they contained multiple inconsistencies,” said Pesha, executive director of communications and planning for the diocese. “We simply do not believe her allegations are true.”
Further, Pesha said, the woman had accused another person of rape in a separate incident in which criminal charges weren’t filed.
Jane Doe’s attorneys released their own statement affirming their belief in her accusations against Ross.
“Victimization is a terrible thing, and what this young lady has experienced should never happen to any person,” attorney Ken Chackes said. “We believe a jury would have ultimately found that Father Ross raped Jane Doe 92. We must, however, take action to preserve her health and well-being. We agree with the Archdiocese that there is no healing for Jane Doe 92 that would come from a three-week trial of these difficult and personal facts.”
Had the trial occurred, it would have been only the second child sex abuse case against the St. Louis archdiocese to make it to a courtroom among dozens that have either been dismissed or settled in recent years. An annual archdiocese report in 2013 noted more than $10 million on costs connected to such cases since 2004, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Settlements like this are a mixed bag,” said Barbara Dorris of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a victim advocacy group. “On one hand, a resolution like this usually helps victims move forward. At the same time, however, it prevents the complicity of Catholic officials from being publicly exposed in court.”
Carlson was a potential witness in the trial, as were Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York who was auxiliary bishop in St. Louis when Ross was defrocked; Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tenn., and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb. Both Stika and Lucas were previously high-ranking church officials in St. Louis.
Pioneer Press reporter Emily Gurnon contributed to this story.