2 Paths, No Easy Solution on Abusive Priests [excerpt]
By Laurie Goodstein and Jodi Wilgoren, New York Times

March 3, 2002

ST. LOUIS, March 1 It has been 20 years since John Scorfina's family complained to church officials about the Rev. Leroy Valentine's sexualized horseplay with him and his two brothers, which they say ended with the priest molesting 11-year-old John.

It has been four years since the Scorfina brothers took $20,000 each from the Archdiocese of St. Louis on the condition they never speak of the settlement, believing that lawyers for the church had promised to remove the priest from parish work.

But when the three men recently learned that Father Valentine, who has denied any wrongdoing, was an assistant pastor at a church attached to a Catholic elementary school, the order not to speak could not contain their outrage.

"I just don't want any kids to go through what I went through," John Scorfina said this week.

Across the Mississippi River in Belleville, Ill., the priests who have been accused of sexual abuse no longer work in churches. One performs karaoke on Wednesday nights at the Lincoln Jug restaurant in Belleville and another pumps gas at his mother's service station in the small town of Columbia.

In the mid-1990's, the Diocese of Belleville publicly ousted 13 priests accused of inappropriate sexual contact with children, leaving them in an odd limbo on the church payroll yet without portfolio, called "Father" but barred from administering sacraments or wearing the collar. "In the church," said one, the Rev. Raymond Kownacki, "you're guilty until proven innocent."

Here in the center of the country, these two dioceses one, in a major city in which a third of the population is Catholic, the other a sprawling 11,000-square-mile expanse of small farm towns have taken divergent paths in handling accusations of sexual abuse by clergymen.

While Belleville made headlines by removing priests, St. Louis quietly moved them around. Each diocese has a board to review the cases. In Belleville, a victim's say-so was often enough for the board to strip priests of their church ministries; in St. Louis, many victims said they were unaware of the board's existence.

As church officials nationwide rethink their approaches to the issue amid recent scandals, each bank of the river offers lessons about the intractability of the problem. . .

Father Valentine was the favorite of many children at St. Pius X, a parish and school in Glasgow Village, a community of identical aluminum-sided bungalows in the northern part of St. Louis. The priest took them out for ice cream and cheeseburgers. He lavished affection on children like the Scorfinas, who came from single-parent or troubled families. "He was like the dad that wasn't there," said John Scorfina, who now runs a construction company.

Father Valentine, in an interview on Thursday at the rectory of St. Thomas the Apostle, where he is now an associate pastor, said 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."

Others who lived in Father Valentine's parish said they felt uneasy about him, particularly when he wrestled with groups of boys and slid them over his body in a game he called "crack your back."

Tom Joseph, 32, remembers a 1982 trip with Father Valentine to the Illinois River in which he says the priest playfully tackled him, pulled down his pants and spanked him. Mr. Joseph, then 13, did not tell anyone, but says that he never went anywhere with the priest again.

Margie Lewis, a single parent, said that one day she called home and was surprised to learn from her daughter that Father Valentine was there wrestling with her son and his friends. She said that she asked him to come to the phone, but he would not, and that he left suddenly.

The Scorfina brothers were also home alone on the day they say that Father Valentine came over, and initiated a wrestling session. Soon, they say, the priest fondled two of the boys and then took John into a bedroom and sodomized him.

"I remember I had a Pittsburgh Steelers poster on the wall, and he made me name all the players until the deed was done," John Scorfina said. Asked in his 1998 deposition how long it lasted, Mr. Scorfina said, "About 10, 15 minutes, maybe, give or take, say, forever, 26 years."

Katie Chrun, the Scorfinas' mother, recalled that when she arrived home her youngest son asked: " `Mom, should a priest touch you like that?' I said, `Like what?' "

Mrs. Chrun said she contacted the authorities, but was told by pastors and a policeman that it was an internal church matter and to keep quiet and be forgiving.

Then, three months later, Mrs. Chrun, her mother and her sister went to meet with Father Valentine in the rectory. Mrs. Chrun and her sister, Linda Thurman, both say that he apologized and said that if he did something wrong, he must have blacked out.

Asked about the meeting, Father Valentine said, "It was an apology that they had taken something wrongly." He said he never said anything about blacking out.

Within the month, Father Valentine was removed with no explanation to the Scorfinas or the parishioners, and in the next 12 years was reassigned to three parishes, two of them with schools. Not until the Scorfina brothers filed their lawsuit, in 1995, were parishioners at the church where he worked at that time informed that there were accusations of child sexual abuse against him. The Scorfina brothers sued the Archbishop of St. Louis and Father Valentine and the archdiocese settled with the family in 1998.

Though they refused to discuss specific cases, Bishop Dolan, who also handles sexual abuse cases for the archdiocese, as well as the archdiocese's lawyer and a psychologist who sits on the review board acknowledged that Father Valentine had been evaluated and treated by medical professionals, and that he had been put on sick leave for four years.

In 2000, as Father Valentine was assigned to his current post in Florissant, a St. Louis suburb, the church's senior pastor sent parishioners a letter informing them about a 1982 accusation of sexual misconduct against Father Valentine. The letter said Father Valentine had "unambiguously denied the allegation" and that therapists had concluded he posed "no threat to children."


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