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Defrocked St. Louis Priest Investigated

Mar 28, 2002 | AP

Prosecutors said Thursday they are investigating about 50 complaints of child sexual abuse, including up to 22 against a defrocked priest who worked as an elementary school counselor.

The complaints follow a public appeal by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce's office last week for information about possible cases of sexual abuse by current or former Catholic priests. The defrocked Roman Catholic priest who worked as a counselor until last week was charged Thursday with exposing himself to two boys in an elementary school bathroom, authorities said.

Along with those charges, Joyce said that up to 19 other sexual abuse complaints against James Beine, 60, are under investigation.

As many as 30 additional complaints were received about several other priests and people not involved with the church. Joyce did not release specifics about those complaints.

Beine was dismissed from the clergy in 1977, and later faced accusations he sexually molested nine boys while working as a priest in two St. Louis-area parishes.

He was arrested Thursday at a residence in Highland, Ill., about 30 miles east of St. Louis, and was jailed on $100,000 bond. Joyce said she did not know if he has an attorney or would waive extradition to Missouri.

"This is one of the most serious predators I have ever dealt with in my years as prosecutor," she said.

The accusations are the latest of several to roil the church in Missouri. On Wednesday, the Archdiocese of St. Louis announced the resignation of one priest and placed another on leave. Archdiocese spokesman Rich Fanning said the church had not been contacted by prosecutors about the latest complaints.

Last week, the city's schools suspended Beine after learning the church spent $110,000 to settle two lawsuits accusing him of sexually abusing boys while a priest. District Superintendent Cleveland Hammonds Jr. said the schools knew about the lawsuits when they were filed in 1994 but didn't know the outcomes until last week.

Beine was hired as a school counselor in 1991, based partly on a recommendation Hammonds said the district received from the archdiocese. He has declined to release the recommendation, and the archdiocese has said it's unlikely such a recommendation was provided.

The scandal now engulfing the American church emerged in Boston in January with the revelation that a former priest had been moved from parish to parish following accusations of sexual abuse.

Elsewhere Thursday:

• In a policy reversal, names of all priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors in the diocese serving New York's Long Island were given to prosecutors. Bishop William Murphy earlier said he did not plan to release the names of priests.

• In Rhode Island, attorneys for both sides said talks were under way to try to settle 38 lawsuits against the Diocese of Providence alleging abuse by 11 priests and one nun. On Monday, plaintiffs' attorneys proposed a deal in which the diocese would pay $15 million now and $8 million over four years.

• In Nebraska, the Diocese of Lincoln said it had received a letter demanding $2 million from four men threatening to go public with allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of a priest in 1978.

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