Victims blast bishop on spending
He remodels home again & goes abroad
And he’s still paying 7 or 8 predator clerics
Only two of 17 abusers have been defrocked
Church is monitoring & housing none of them
Group says “kids still at risk” 20 years after crisis erupted
Despite pledging “openness,” diocese won’t reveal # of victims
SNAP: Once “ahead of the curve,” Belleville diocese is now “far behind”
Holding signs and childhood photos, clergy sex abuse victims and their supporters will disclose that Belleville’s Catholic bishop (who’s admitted misusing church funds before):
-- is renovating his home again, for the second time in seven years, and
-- quietly went to Africa last month (and has several times in recent years).
They will urge him to:
-- urge him to reveal who paid for the trips, and his alleged new kitchen renovation, and
-- beg him to stay home, house predator priests, monitor them, and
-- reveal how many boys and girls have been sexually assaulted by Belleville priests.
TODAY, Monday, Aug. 5 at 1:30 p.m.
Outside the Belleville Catholic Diocese HQ, 222 S. Third St., Belleville IL
At least one long-time Belleville Catholic and activist along with two-three members of a support group called SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), including a St. Louis man who is the group’s long time director
It’s been exactly 20 years since the first of 17 Belleville clerics was accused of molesting a child and suspended. In what was a then-unprecedented scandal, over the next three years, the diocese saw roughly 10% of its active duty priests ousted because of credible child sex abuse allegations.
Only two of them, however, have been defrocked. Seven are still being paid, SNAP believes. And none are being watched, the group says, needlessly leaving kids at risk.
Yet last month, Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton quietly went to Nigeria for a church ceremony (as he has apparently done several times in recent years).
And he’s reportedly renovating his private kitchen even though just seven years ago he spent $253,000 remodeling it less than seven years ago.
SNAP wants Braxton to disclose who pays for the trips and the renovation. For the sake of public safety, SNAP wants Braxton to stop overseas travel, stay home, and house and monitor predator priests. They also want him to disclose the clerics’ whereabouts and status to parishioners and the public. And to honor his promise to be “open and transparent” about clergy sex crimes, SNAP wants Braxton to disclose how many more victims have come forward in Belleville.
In 2008, Braxton publicly apologized for misusing money in two church funds. Braxton has been accused of wasteful and inappropriate spending several times, including when he spent $150,000 renovating his residence before he even moved to the diocese.
In St. Louis, at least some of the 52 archdiocesan predator priests are housed and purportedly supervised by church staff, living at church facilities in Shrewsbury, Franklin Co. and Jefferson Co.
Roughly 30 US bishops have posted on their websites the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused child molesting clerics. Neither Belleville nor St. Louis does this.
In 2002, then-Belleville Bishop Wilton Gregory publicly acknowledged that 46 Belleville victims had come forward. Braxton has never updated that number, SNAP says. Braxton has never updated this figure.
As of 2007, the Belleville News Democrat reported that of the accused clerics “removed from service, Vonnahmen is the only one to be (defrocked) by Rome.” (Since then, Kownacki has also been defrocked and sent to a south St. Louis retirement home.) Vonnahmen lives near Golconda in Pope County in a tax-exempt $350,000 villa overlooking the Ohio River on the grounds of a retreat center called San Damiano. While on active duty as a priest, Vonnahmen also ran a tour and shrine business.
These suspended Belleville predator priests are believed to be still on the payroll: Fr. Robert Chlopecki, Fr. David F. Crook, Fr. Louis P. Peterson, Fr. Jerome B. Ratermann, Fr. William F. Rensing, Fr. E. Alan Ruppert, and Msgr. Joseph R. Schwaegel.
These five suspended Belleville predator priests are believed to be deceased: Fr. James Calhoun, Fr. Edwin Kastner, Fr. Eugene G. Linneman, Fr. Walter E. MacPherson, and Fr. Roger Schoenhofen.
One of the accused is a deacon (Francis Theis) and one belongs to a religious order called the Oblates (Fr. Schoenhofen). One alleged predator priest, Gary Sebescak, reportedly left the priesthood voluntarily. SNAP believes he works for an advertising firm called Solarium Productions in Sullivan MO). And one priest, Fr. Daniel L. Friedman, was suspended in 1994, reinstated in 1995, suspended again in 2002 and reinstated in 2003. He’s now pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Aviston IL. (618 228 7219, firstname.lastname@example.org )
A decade ago, the New York Times reported that Msgr. Joseph R. Schwaegel sings on weekend nights at the Lincoln Jug bar. “Fr. Louis Peterson works in a restaurant in Lebanon, Ill. Fr. Kownacki collects coins and stamps in a dingy first-floor apartment in Dupo, Ill., where he said he sometimes celebrates Mass for family and friends, against the rules of his administrative leave. Fr. David Crook has left the area.” One priest “pumps gas at his mother’s service station.”
SNAP believes that Fr. Robert Chlopecki lives in Marissa, IL (216 W. Lyons St.)
Braxton was an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis. He became a priest in Chicago.
David Clohessy (314 566 9790, SNAPclohessy@aol.com), Barbara Dorris (314 862 7688 home, 314 503 0003 cell)