Settlements reached in St. Louis clergy abuse lawsuits

Monday, July 7, 2008

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A victims' advocacy group said Monday that $312,500 is being paid to men who claim they were sexually molested by five St. Louis-area Catholic priests as far back as the late 1960s.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the priests sexually preyed upon six boys between the ages of 8 and 15 at parishes and grade schools from the late '60s to the late 1980s.

SNAP said the settlements were finalized in recent weeks through mediation.

Attorney Bernard Huger confirmed that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis had resolved several cases as a result of effective mediation.

SNAP named the priests in the settlements as Robert Johnston, James Funke, Donald Straub, Joseph Lessard and Michael McGrath. No criminal charges have been filed.

Funke was formally removed from the priesthood in 2006. He was sentenced in 1987 to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to 10 counts related to the molestation of two teenage boys while teaching at DuBourg High School in St. Louis.

Straub, defrocked in 2005, reportedly admitted in 1978 that sexual misconduct allegations by parents the previous two years were true. Despite the confession, Straub remained an active priest through at least 1991. After two years in Kansas, he returned to St. Louis but was barred from performing any duties as a priest, officials have said.

Straub was sent away for counseling and treatment. Church officials have said now they would protect society from an individual diagnosed as a sexual predator.

Lessard, now in his 80s, admitted in a 2002 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that he abused a dozen boys in three parishes from the late 1960s to the late '70's. Then-St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali said at the time that Lessard's assignments "were made according to the common psychological and professional practice of the time, which we now know to have been inadequate and, by current standards, unacceptable."

McGrath was removed from public ministry in 1997 and was defrocked in 2005.

SNAP maintains that McGrath has faced more sex-abuse lawsuits than any other St. Louis cleric.

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