School suspends choral director after allegation of sexual abuse

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ST. LOUIS -- The choral director at St. Louis Community College at Meramec has been suspended with pay as administrators look into claims he had sex with one of his high school students nine years ago.

Larry Stukenholtz was told of the decision Friday afternoon following a meeting of the college's board of trustees, said community college system spokesman Pat Crowe.

"The college will make a decision about Stukenholtz's employment status upon the conclusion of the review of relevant information," Crowe told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Stukenholtz couldn't be reached for comment.

A California woman, Sarah Gray, filed suit in June 2006 against the Catholic diocese of Orange County, Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., and Stukenholtz, alleging that he had a sexual relationship with her when she was 17 and a member of his choir.

At the time, Stukenholtz denied the claim, calling it "ridiculous."

On Oct. 5, the Orange County diocese agreed to pay $6.7 million to settle a number of lawsuits claiming diocese personnel, including Stukenholtz, had sex with underaged girls during the 1990s.

Gray, now 27 and a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke at a community college board of trustees meeting on Thursday and demanded Stukenholtz's firing.

She and members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, gave the college headquarters copies of a sworn statement Patrick Murphy, president of Mater Dei, gave Sept. 17, saying Stukenholtz resigned in 1999 after school officials determined he had "inappropriate sexual relations with a former student."

Crowe said the sworn statement led administrators to suspend Stukenholtz while the college's attorneys review information from the California lawsuit.

Before the trustees met Thursday, Stukenholtz said he couldn't comment but said, "The college is backing me completely."

Ron Stilwell, a professor of music emeritus at Meramec, told college administrators that he had no evidence that Stukenholtz had had inappropriate contact with students at the college.

Authorities haven't filed any criminal charges against Stukenholtz, although Gray filed a complaint last month with police in Fullerton, Calif., where she said Stukenholtz lived in 1998. An investigation is pending, a police spokeswoman said.

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