By Lilly Fowler
April 21, 2014
ST. LOUIS The Roman Catholic Church was rocked by the clergy sex scandal in the United States more than a decade ago.
Church officials have been forced to acknowledge they moved known abusive priests from parish to parish, enabling them to claim even more victims. Tears have been shed and millions of dollars in settlements spent, along with vows that necessary reforms are in place to protect children.
And so over this Easter weekend in St. Louis, members of the region’s many Catholic parishes could be excused if they expressed both concern and fatigue as they faced news of the latest allegation of abuse by a young priest.
On Good Friday, criminal charges were brought against the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, 31, said to be a close friend of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, over allegations that Jiang sexually abused a young boy. The molestation is alleged to have taken place on two separate occasions at St. Louis the King School, the elementary school at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica.
Police said the unnamed boy told detectives and a forensic interviewer that sometime between July 1, 2011, and August 1, 2012, Jiang molested him in the school’s bathroom. The archdiocese has suspended the priest from his duties while the case is investigated.
The criminal case is the second accusing Jiang. The first, in which the priest was accused of fondling a teenage girl from Lincoln County, was dismissed last year, though a civil lawsuit is still pending.
Jiang, who had been staying at St. Dominic Priory in the 3400 block of Lafayette Avenue, could not be reached for comment. Contacted there previously, he declined to be interviewed due to pending legal matters.
The timing of the latest allegations couldn’t have been worse as parishioners gathered to mark the holy weekend.
Among them was Kevin Ross, 55, who visited the cathedral on Lindell Boulevard in the Central West End Saturday to participate in an Easter Vigil.
“It’s horrible,” said Ross, a nurse in St. Louis. “There’s a wound that has to be repaired, and we’ll see how Archbishop Carlson will repair that wound.”
“If it was my child that would be a true test to the faith.”
Supporters of Jiang continue to stand by him.
“Everything I’ve heard is alleged. It’s so disconsonant with Father Joseph, so radically opposed to who he is,” said Bill Hannegan, who along with his wife, Lucy, founded Friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang, a group more than 100 members strong that formed in 2012 to support the priest.
“If I could bet everything I own on his total innocence, I would take the bet,” said Hannegan, noting he and his wife are like parents to the young priest. “I’m as certain as I could be about anything.”
“He’s not being treated fairly, and it’s clear that a lot of this is about money,” said Lucy, whom Jiang calls “mom.’’ She compared Jiang’s current situation to the arrest of Jesus before his crucifixion.
The couple said they’ve both spoken to Jiang by phone since he was released on $150,000 bail on Friday with the help of a supporter, though they said they did not know his specific whereabouts.
Jiang is said to be viewing his predicament through “a spiritual framework,” where looking back, “this will probably be the best Good Friday he’s had, offering his sufferings for priests and other souls,” the couple said in an email, noting that the pastor often speaks about enduring hardship for the good of others.
Others, however, have fresh doubts about how well the Catholic Church, and in particular, the Archdiocese of St. Louis, is handling the sexual abuse crisis that continues to haunt parishes.
“Just think of the odds, is it really possible that two kids who likely don’t know each other essentially made up the same lie,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
Abuse cases against priests have often created these kinds of divisions.
But Jiang, many say, stands apart because of his ties to the top of the catholic leadership in St. Louis.
In fact, Archbishop Carlson’s personal ties to Jiang date back several years before he came to St. Louis.
CHRIST’S FACE ON EARTH
Jiang arrived in St. Louis in 2009, along with the newly installed archbishop. Originally from China, Jiang has been in Carlson’s care since he was a young seminarian.
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