A Catholic priest who's been dead for decades has been accused of sexually abusing a child at a Southeast Missouri parish he served in the mid-1960s, the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau has disclosed.
The complaint against the Rev. Walter G. Craig is "credible," said spokeswoman Leslie Anne Eidson. But church leaders aren't willing, she said, to provide specifics out of respect for the victim's request for privacy.
"It is a matter of grave concern for the diocese," Eidson said in a telephone interview from Springfield, Mo. "We felt we had a responsibility to make this information available to the public. But, of course, we want to honor his wish for complete anonymity."
The diocese did acknowledge the incident is alleged to have taken place in the mid-1960s at Immaculate Conception Parish in New Madrid, Mo., where Craig was pastor from 1954 to 1966, Eidson said. Craig, who was born in 1899 and ordained in 1923, was pastor in other Southeast Missouri churches, including St. Ambrose in Chaffee, Immaculate Conception in Jackson and St. Lawrence in New Hamburg. Craig died in 1971 while at the New Hamburg parish. He was at St. Louis parishes twice during his nearly five decades in the priesthood, according to biographical information provided by the diocese.
This is the only allegation made against Craig, Eidson said. She would not elaborate on why the claim was considered credible. The victim in this case has not filed a lawsuit, she said. She characterized his career until now as "a well-respected one."
The Catholic Church has learned from its mistakes in dealing with such allegations, Eidson said. The so-called sexual abuse crisis broke in 1992, when a series of newspaper articles by The Boston Globe uncovered what it characterized as a widespread cover-up of abuse within the church. About 15,000 victims have come forward, some winning huge settlements from the world's largest Christian denomination.
Ten years later, Eidson pointed out, U.S. bishops approved the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Eidson and others say improvements to the church's response and treatment of victims has been made.
Children in the church are safer now, Eidson said.
"We are committed to make sure our children and youth are safe in our church," she said.
Every adult leader is trained, she said, and priests are warned never to be alone with children. Before the charter, only about 25 diocese and eparchies had victim assistance coordinators. Since then, the number has grown to all 195. The coordinators assist the bishops in responding to those making allegations in ways that Eidson said promotes healing and reconciliation. Dealing with allegations on a strictly legal level, Eidson said, wasn't working.
Another example Eidson pointed to is that churches where Craig was pastor are being asked to seek out any other potential victims. At Immaculate Conception in Jackson and St. Ambrose in Chaffee, a copy of the news release is being inserted into the bulletin. Should other victims come forward, Eidson said, counseling "at the very minimum" would be made available.
As soon as the diocese learned about these allegations, she said, civil authorities are alerted. The New Madrid County prosecuting attorney's office, the one alerted in this case, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Law enforcement in counties in which Craig served on Thursday said they weren't sure what could be done with a deceased accused. Capt. Ken Kinder of the Scott County Sheriff's Department said in this case they could only arrest someone if they helped Craig cover it up.
Any records from Craig's time at Chaffee no longer exist, Kinder said. Starting an investigation to find any cover-up without records would be nearly impossible, he said.
"Back in those days, records were sketchy at best," Kinder said. "From those old days, very few records remain."