A St. Louis priest has been “permanently removed from active ministry” - but apparently not defrocked - 31 years after the first of at least five child sex abuse accusations against him surfaced. And a local support group for victims is criticizing the archdiocese for not evidently supervising the cleric for the last 11 years and for what it calls “a hurtful and gratuitous announcement” about the defrocking.
Child sex abuse allegations against Fr. Leroy A. Valentine first emerged in 1982, when a North County mother reported that he sexually assaulted her three sons. The St. Louis Archdiocese paid the boys a settlement – believed to be around $20,000 each - and reportedly sent Valentine for treatment and then transferred him. Catholic officials insisted that the boys never speak publicly about the abuse or the settlements.
In 2002, Valentine was an associate pastor at St. Thomas the Apostle in Florissant with an adjoining parochial school. He was one of “at least three St. Louis priests who have been accused in civil court of sexual abuse remain active in the archdiocese today, two in contact with children,” according to the New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
(The other two were Fr. Bruce Forman who was – and still is – the director a youth choir in Soulard and Fr. Thomas Graham who was chaplain at a south St. Louis County nursing home. Graham was convicted in a criminal trial of molesting another boy but the jury’s verdict was later overturned. )
Valentine resigned 2002, claiming he would begin focusing all his efforts on proving his innocence.
The first civil child sex abuse and cover up suit against Valentine was filed in 1995.
“Three archbishops – Justin Rigali, Raymond Burke and Robert Carlson – evidently felt Valentine was too dangerous to work in parishes. But for 11 years, they left Valentine free to live on his own with no supervision or monitoring at all,” said David Clohessy, SNAP’s executive director.
The archdiocesan announcement of the decision – made in the latest issue of The St. Louis Review, the archdiocesan newspaper - did not disclose that church settlements were paid to at least three of Valentine’s victims.
"It's disingenuous for Catholic officials to pay thousands of dollars in settlements to Valentine’s victims, but make no mention of that fact when they disclose that, finally, decades later, Valentine has been ousted – allegedly permanently – from active ministry," said Barbara Dorris, the SNAP Outreach Director.
Dorris also disputed the claim by church staff, in the archdiocesan newspaper, that "civil authorities found the allegations were unsubstantiated."
"We challenge Carlson to provide evidence of this," she said. "We strongly suspect that the statute of limitations prevented criminal charges against Valentine."
SNAP also criticized Carlson for letting his newspaper twice mention Valentine’s denials.
“That’s just mean. Archdiocesan officials obviously believe he’s guilty of abuse,” said Clohessy. “Why else, after multiple lawsuits and settlements, would they make an 11 year temporary suspension permanent unless they were convinced he’s a predator?”
“Repeating Valentine’s obviously discredited claim of innocence just rubs salt into the already very deep wounds of his victims,” he said.
In a bizarre 2002 interview with the New York Times, Valentine claimed he was barred by the legal settlement from discussing the case.
“When told that this was his opportunity to respond to whether there was any truth to the accusations, he looked down and shook his head. The senior pastor, the Rev. Henry Garavaglia, who sat in on the interview, said, ‘Emphatically, I would say no.’"
“Then Father Valentine looked up and said suddenly, ‘At the same time, parents should always be concerned who's working with their children.’"
The Glasgow Village mother whose sons were molested by Valentine told the Associated Press in 2002 that “a police the sergeant in charge of the case asked her to drop the complaint because the scandal would hurt the church.”
“We’re very proud of this brave family,” said Dorris. “These three boys, sexually assaulted at the ages of 10, 11 and 12, immediately told their mom who immediately told the police. Years later, when Catholic officials kept minimizing clergy sex crimes, denying cover ups, and keeping predators on the job, this family spoke publicly, exposed wrongdoing and got Fr. Valentine ousted. We only hope church employees – then and now – would show such compassion and courage.”
Here’s a copy of the St. Louis Review article about Valentine being defrocked: