The names of additional priests accused of sexually abusing minors while assigned to the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau were released by the diocese today.
The latest list brings to 23 the total number of priests named in allegations that occurred in the diocese since it was founded in 1956. There are 11 other priests who were assigned to the diocese at some point, and who were accused of abuse while assigned elsewhere.
Since its founding, 424 priests — diocesan and religious order — have been assigned to the diocese, which covers 39 counties in southern Missouri and includes Joplin, Carthage, Webb City, Neosho, Lamar and many other area communities.
The oldest allegations of abuse date to the 1950s; the most recent were from 2006.
Diocesan priests are those assigned to a specific diocese; religious are those priests affiliated with specific orders, such as the Benedictines, who were assigned to the diocese at the time of the alleged incident. Many of the reports naming diocesan priests have previously been made public, but the names of those who were assigned to religious orders are new.
Several of the priests were assigned to parishes in Southwest Missouri, either before or after the alleged assault took place. Some were assigned to area parishes when the alleged abuse occurred.
The diocese also said it settled and paid eight claims for $355,000, using unrestricted cash reserves. There were three claims paid by the diocesan insurer at a cost of $92,500, bringing the total to $447,500. Additionally, the diocese offered victim assistance for prescription costs ($35,836), counseling ($28,425) and future funeral expenses ($7,011), for a total of $70,448. Legal fees so far have come to nearly $190,000, the diocese reported.
The diocese also said no funds have come from any parishes or the Diocesan Development Fund or the Capital Endowment Campaign.
Names of the accused
According to the statement:
• John Brath was a priest in Webb City when he allegedly abused a minor in the 1970s; the alleged abuse was reported in 2015. Brath was retired from ministry in 2010 and died in 2014.
• Stephen Schneider was assigned to Joplin (St. Peter the Apostle) in 2006 when the alleged abuse occurred; it was reported in 2006. He was retired from ministry in 2006 and died in 2016.
• Leonard Chambers was assigned to a parish in Lebanon when he allegedly abused a minor in 1977-82. The allegations were brought forward in 1998 and 2013. Chambers was the priest at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Joplin in 1968, and he was later accused of molesting a teenage boy while assigned to a parish in Springfield. He was later assigned to the parish in Pierce City and after that to St. Peter the Apostle in Joplin. He was found to have violated the restrictions he was under when he was later found alone with a minor. He was retired from ministry in 1998 and laicized (removed from the priesthood) in 2006.
• Larry Gregovich was assigned to a parish in New Madrid when he allegedly abused a minor from 1982-95. Gregovich had earlier been assigned to St. Mary Parish in Joplin and later Immaculate Conception Parish in Springfield until he was named pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Verona in 1979. In 1985 — after the abuse allegedly happened, but before it was reported in 1992 — he was named pastor of St. Ann in Carthage. He was named pastor of St. Mary in Joplin in 1990. He was retired from ministry in 1992 by then-Bishop John J. Leibrecht, and then immediately suspended from serving as a priest. He died in 2017.
Also on the list were three religious order priests who were assigned to a minor seminary in Carthage, Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
• Thomas Gregory Meyer allegedly abused a minor in 1969-70, and died in 2012. That is also the year the abuse was reported.
• Emil Twardochleb allegedly abused a minor in 1971-75; it was reported in 2015. He died in 1976.
• Bernard Vedder allegedly abused a minor in the 1960s, and it was reported in 1995. He died in 1993.
• Damien Boeding, a Benedictine priest, allegedly abused children from 1964-68 in Iowa and Minnesota. Those allegations were reported in 1992 and 1994. Boeding retired from the priesthood in 1988 and died in 2003. He lived in Joplin for many years after his retirement.
'Everything we are aware of'
Others on the list who were assigned to parishes in Southwest Missouri include Louis Wyrsch, whose assignments included St. Peter the Apostle parish in Joplin in 1968, and who died in 1997; Eugene Deragowski, who was assigned to a number of churches in Southwest Missouri before he died in 1981; and Fred Lutz, who was assigned to a parish in Cape Girardeau when the alleged abuse happened in 1972. That allegation was reported in 2006. Lutz was placed on leave in 1981 and resumed working in parishes in 1987. He later was a pastor at parishes in Pulaskifield, Cassville, Mount Vernon and Greenfield. He also was a pastor on the eastern side of the diocese, and then returned to Lamar, where he remained until he retired in 2011. He has been placed on restrictive ministry.
The current bishop, Edward Rice, asked for an independent review of all clergy and diocesan files last August, and a letter with the results of that review was mailed on Friday to Catholic households throughout the diocese. Many of those letters are arriving today.
Leslie Eidson, spokesperson for the diocese, said, "As it stands today (Monday), this is everything we are aware of."
She said the diocese is encouraging victims who have not yet come forward to do so, adding: "We anticipate there might be other (abuse) survivors coming forward."
Some of the reports have been made public as far back as 2002, but the list changes as new allegations come forward.
Some of the allegations are the result of one person's accusation, and sometimes the accuser has died or been unable to participate in the investigation. In some cases, the reports were made by someone other than the victim. Some reports were not deemed credible at the time they were made, but are being reported under standards that have since been adopted by the diocese.
According to the letter by Rice, "when a report of sexual misconduct is received by the diocese, the Safe Environment Review Board uses a 'Semblance of Truth' standard — that is, a 'reason to believe or reasonable cause to suspect,' rather than the 'preponderance of evidence' standard to determine 'credibility.' This offers a threshold where time, person, place and plausibility — 'Could this have happened?' — is carefully considered by the Safe Environment Review Board to determine actions related to an allegation or reported concern in order to make its final recommendations to the bishop. Consequently, you will see in our public releases 'an allegation has been received' rather than the term 'credible accusation,' as there is not always sufficient evidence to thoroughly investigate and determine the truth of the allegations or reports."