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Official Says Accused Priest 1 of 6 Ousted

Jan 9, 2003 | Baton Rouge Advocate A high-ranking official with the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge confirmed Wednesday that a former priest accused of sexually abusing an altar boy 25 years ago was one of six removed by the diocese in the past 15 years after accusations of sexual misconduct with minors.

The Very Rev. John Carville, vicar general for the diocese, said Christopher Springer was dismissed for alleged "improper actions" in 1985. However, a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the former altar boy, Patrick Myers, alleges Springer sexually abused him from 1978 to 1982.

Carville said the diocese first learned about Myers' allegations two or three months ago when contacted by Myers' attorney, Felecia Peavy of Houston.

Myers claims the sexual abuse occurred while Springer was a priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Baton Rouge and Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton. Springer was priest at St. Pius X from 1976 to 1980 before moving to Our Lady of the Assumption.

Carville said the diocese received reports about Springer living alone and often being in the company of young people while he was in Clinton. He said the diocese received no allegations of sexual abuse while Springer was at St. Pius X.

"By the nature of the act, it's never done in front of witnesses," Carville said. He said that unless the child informed the church or confided in a parent, teacher or someone else in authority, there would have been no way for the church to know that a problem existed.

Carville said Springer was dismissed from the ministry soon after the diocese looked into allegations of an alleged molestation by Springer in Clinton around 1985.

"I know Bishop (Stanley) Ott acted quickly," Carville said of the former bishop, who is deceased.

At the time Myers claims the abuse occurred, Bishop Joseph Sullivan headed the diocese. He died in 1982.

Attempts to contact Springer for comment have been unsuccessful. Carville said the diocese did not have an address or any other information to contact the former priest.

Peavy said Tuesday she has been in negotiations with the diocese for several months in an attempt to settle the matter. Myers, who now lives in Houston, claims to be disabled by severe psychological problems result-ing from the alleged sexual abuse.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Springer, the Baton Rouge diocese, Bishop Robert Muench, and the diocese's insurance companies. Muench was installed as the diocese's bishop in March.

Myers claims that his family was one of the first members of St. Pius X Catholic Church and he "developed great trust, confidence, reverence, respect and obedience to the Church" and its priests.

He contends the church officials throughout the United States had known a problem existed with some priests molesting children since the 1960s. Myers claims in the lawsuit that the church should have done more to determine whether Springer was suitable for a position of trust with access to children.

The lawsuit has been assigned to state District Court Judge Duke Welch.

The Catholic Church has been under intense public scrutiny in recent months following reports that high-ranking church officials knew of sexual-abuse problems and did not report the incidents to law-enforcement authorities. Instead, many cases were settled out of court, costing the church millions. The scandal forced the resignation of the most-senior American cardinal, Bernard Law, and led to the conviction of defrocked priest John Geoghan on child molestation charges.

Public pressure arising from the reports of child abuse prompted the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to adopt in June the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The charter, among other things, established a procedure for investigating sexual-abuse allegations leveled against priests and reporting them.

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