2 Jan 2008

'Credible' abuse accusation brought against dead priest

News-Leader - Springfield, Missouri

January 1, 2008

Linda Leicht

The sexual misconduct review board of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese has announced its determination of a "credible" accusation of abuse.

The event dates back 40 years, and the accused priest died in 1997, but the diocese is taking steps to address the impact of the abuse, said Recy Moore, spokeswoman for the diocese.

Louis Wyrsch is the fifth priest in the diocese to be named as having sexually abused a minor. Three were removed from the ministry following the accusations. Like Wyrsch, the fourth had died before the accusations were made.

Wyrsch left priestly ministry in 1973, 11 years after his ordination in Rome. He was defrocked by the church in 1989 and married.

Details of the accusation against Wyrsch are not being released.

"We are at the very early stages of this," said Moore.

The accuser is not being identified by the diocese.

The diocese is offering assistance, including counseling, Moore said.

Following meetings of the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops in 2002 to discuss the clergy sex-abuse crisis, the Springfield diocese joined other U.S. dioceses to develop a review board, as required by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People passed by the bishops.

Springfield Bishop John Leibrecht promised that the diocesan policy, revised to meet the new standards, would be effective. One of the major changes in the policy calls for all allegations of abuse to be brought to civil authorities. Under the charter, any priest found to have committed even a "single act" of sexual abuse of a minor must be permanently removed from public ministry.

Before the charter or the diocese's revised policy were developed, the diocese announced the names of three priests who had been accused of sexual abuse dating back to 1981. Leonard Chambers, Amel Shibley and Lawrence E. Gregovich were all eventually removed from ministry after they admitted the abuse, but none was reported to law enforcement.

Gregovich was ordered to retire in 1992 when the families of three boys he abused came forward, but Shibley and Chambers continued to serve in restricted positions for years after the accusations were made.

Since the review board has been established, accusations against two priests have been brought forward. Both had died years earlier.

In December 2006 and January 2007, two people brought "credible" accusations against Eugene Deragowski, who died in 1981. Both accusers said the abuse took place in the 1960s. The victims' identities have not been released as requested by the complainants, according to the diocese.

Moore did not have the date when the allegations against Wyrsch were brought to the diocese, although she said it was recently.

"This is not an easy thing for them to come forward with," said Moore.

"Hopefully, it will encourage others to go forward."

Accused priests

Priests who have been accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese include:

Louis Wyrsch -- Ordained in 1964. The alleged abuse occurred in 1967, when he was an associate pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Poplar Bluff. He was moved to St. Peter's parish in Joplin in 1968, went on leave from the diocese in 1969, named chaplain at Southwest Missouri State College in 1970, and left priestly ministry in 1973 and later married. He was defrocked in 1989 and died in 1997.
Eugene Deragowski -- Accusations from two victims place the abuse in the mid-1960s. Deragowski served the diocese in parishes and missions in Bolivar, Buffalo, Greenfield, West Plains, Gainesville, Pulaskifield, Cassville, Mountain View and Eminence between 1953 and 1980 and as chaplain at Mercy Villa in Springfield 1980 to 1981, when he died.

Lawrence E. Gregovich -- Ordained in 1972, he served four parishes, including Immaculate Conception in New Madrid between 1982-85 when he sexually abused three boys. The victims' families came forward in 1992, and Gregovich was ordered to retire.

Amil Antonine Shibley -- Ordained in 1962, he served in eight parishes, including St. Francis Xavier in Sikeston from 1976-1992 when he sexually abused two boys. Accusations came to light in 1993 and 1995. In 1995 he was ordered to retire, but two years later he was asked to return to part-time duties as the administrator of St. Michael parish in Fredericktown until March 2002 when he was removed.

Leonard Chambers Jr. -- Ordained in 1965, he served in 22 parishes in the diocese, including the newly established parish of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Springfield 1981-82 when he sexually abused a teenage boy. He was ordered to retire in 1998 after breaking a restriction on being alone with children, placed on him in 1984.

To report abuse

Any person who alleges sexual misconduct by any employee or volunteer with the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese can bring a complaint in writing, by telephone or in person to the bishop, chancellor, any pastor or parish life coordinator or the assistance coordinator.

The mailing address is 601 S. Jefferson Ave., Springfield, MO 65806.

Call Bishop John Leibrecht or the chancellor, Msgr. Tom Reidy, at 866-0841.

Call victim assistance coordinators Kathleen Griesemer at 848-4601 or Steve Moncher at 861-2109.


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