Parishioners at Our Lady of Providence Roman Catholic Church in Crestwood were confronted with ugly news on the weekend before one of the most joyous holy days of the Christian calendar: Their pastor had resigned after admitting to sexual misconduct 24 years ago.
The Rev. Robert F. Johnston had come to the parish 6 1/2 years ago. Over the years, he worked hard to eliminate a big debt the parish had incurred and to rehabilitate the interior of the church. He worked hard for the parish school and for the elderly of the congregation.
But this weekend, parishioners learned that when he was at Sacred Heart parish in Valley Park, Johnston sexually abused a minor, a teenage boy.
The victim came forward in the last 10 days or two weeks, said Jim Orso, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Last week, Johnston was summoned to archdiocesan headquarters on Lindell Boulevard. He admitted the abuse, Orso said. He was told to resign.
At the evening Mass on Saturday and at the three Masses on Sunday, Monsignor Richard F. Stika, vicar general of the archdiocese, delivered the news heard this year in Roman Catholic churches across the country. A child had been violated by a priest. Trust was broken. The priest was gone.
Orso said Johnston was staying with family members.
The Rev. Glennon Doherty served as associate pastor until Johnston resigned. He’s now temporary administrator of the parish until a new pastor is appointed in mid- to late January.
Doherty detailed Johnston’s recent accomplishments.
But there were problems in the past. Alcoholism for one thing. Doherty said Johnston was forthcoming about his alcoholism and his recovery.
“He has been clean and sober for 21 or 22 years,” Doherty said.
“Through me he wanted to say that he was very sorry something from a part of his life something he has worked very hard to make amends for with God – that this part of his life has come back to cause pain and to hurt people.”
Doherty said the incident happened in the last years of Johnston’s drinking.
The archdiocese’s official statement said, “Father Johnston has admitted this (the misconduct) and in accord with archdiocesan policy immediately submitted his resignation. He has left the parish. He will no longer function publicly as a priest.”
Orso said he had no idea if the victim would sue. The archdiocese encouraged the victim to report the incident to authorities, he said.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch said Sunday he had no information on the incident. Whether the statute of limitations has run out depends on the nature of the allegations and the exact time the abuse occurred, he said.
Besides Sacred Heart and Our Lady of Providence parishes, Orso said Johnston also served at St. Martin de Porres in Hazelwood; St. Joachim in Old Mines, Mo.; and the now defunct parishes of St. Catherine of Sienna in Pagedale and St. Mary in Bridgeton.
Archbishop Justin Rigali will celebrate all Masses at Our Lady of Providence next weekend, and will be available afterward to talk with parishioners.