Katie Chrun says that when she told police in 1982 that her three sons had been molested by their priest in St. Louis, the sergeant gave her this advice: Forget about a trial. Talk to the archdiocese. Work it out in private.
“He told me that it would be better that way, that it would be better for the church and better for my kids,” she says.
With the nation’s Roman Catholic Church rocked by scandal over its handling of long-ago cases of child molestation, the St. Louis episode may be emblematic of a bygone era in law enforcement when sexual attacks committed by friends, relatives, spouses — and priests — were treated as “a family matter” and steered away from the courts.
“The fear was that everyone was going to be embarrassed and the victim, whether it was an adult or a child, would be put on trial by the defense lawyer,” said Gus Sandstrom, a district attorney in Pueblo, Colo., and an adviser to the National Center for Prosecution of Child Abuse.
As a result, he said, well-intentioned police officers tried to keep the most scandalous cases behind closed doors.
Chrun said St. Louis police never brought charges against her parish priest, the Rev. Leroy Valentine. Chrun’s sons received $20,000 apiece from the archdiocese to settle a lawsuit.
Valentine, who maintains his innocence, was sent to a treatment center and transferred to another parish. He resigned from his ministry two months ago after a second alleged victim lodged a complaint.
The St. Louis Police Department did not respond to requests for information about its handling of Valentine’s case.
Other alleged victims have told similar stories as the Catholic church been fractured by allegations that church leaders across the country sheltered priests accused of sexually abusing children.
“Time and time again, law enforcement people have essentially bent over backward to allow church leaders the leeway to handle these things quietly,” said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
“It’s not a decision that police made unilaterally,” Clohessy said. “In a lot of cases, we’re talking about some diocesan official quietly picking up the phone and calling the investigating officer and saying, `We know we have a problem. We’ll take care of it.’ And in far too many cases the police have been content to let them do just that.”
In their defense, church officials have said that they were trying to spare the church and the victims alike from scandal and that they mistakenly believed that many child-molesting priests could, with treatment, conquer their sexual urges.
A former police inspector told The Philadelphia Inquirer recently that during the 1970s and early ’80s, the department routinely shelved investigations of clergy accused of sexual abuse.
Instead, detectives would let the church know about the allegations and leave it to the Philadelphia Archdiocese to determine punishment, former Chief Inspector Thomas Roselli said. Roselli did not return calls from The Associated Press.
Other Philadelphia police officials have denied there was any such policy and insisted that if such practices went on, it was on a small scale.
Of the 35 priests that the Philadelphia Archdiocese acknowledges were accused of sexual abuse over the past 50 years, only one was prosecuted in the city.
The Rev. Nilo C. Martins pleaded guilty in 1985 to sodomizing a 12-year-old altar boy. He was sentenced to roughly two to four years in prison but was paroled after a month and ordered deported to Brazil.
Former Police Commissioner John F. Timoney, who led a sweeping overhaul of the department’s troubled sexual-assault unit after his appointment in 1998, said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if there was a time when some officers did not aggressively investigate claims against clergy.
“They had problems with sexual assault cases and not treating them on face value. … The cases would lay in this kind of no man’s land,” Timoney said. “The one thing that I can guarantee you is that if a case happens now in Philly, it gets investigated.”