Archdiocese puts one priest on leave as another resigns

Thursday, March 28, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- A Roman Catholic priest from a parish in north St. Louis County has resigned following new charges of sexual abuse and church officials have placed a second on leave, the city's archdiocese said Wednesday.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis released letters from the two priests written to their congregations announcing the actions along with a letter from Archbishop Justin Rigali, who said the church remains committed "to uphold strict and up-to-date standards to protect children and young people."

The Rev. Leroy A. Valentine is resigning from his post at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Florissant following the archdiocese's receipt of "a new charge of sexual abuse of a minor from many years ago," the church said.

Innocence maintained

Valentine has been previously accused of sexually molesting three brothers 20 years ago at a different parish. The brothers said the archdiocese, in a private settlement, promised that Valentine would not be placed in a ministry with access to children and went public earlier this month after learning he was at St. Thomas.

Valentine, in his letter to parishioners, maintained his innocence.

"But at this time I have come to the decision that it is in the best interest of our parish family, of the Archdiocese, and for my own personal well-being that I end my service at St. Thomas," Valentine wrote.

The Archdiocese also placed the Rev. Gary P. Wolken on leave after receiving an allegation he had "inappropriate contact with a minor."

The charge is not related to any of Wolken's work at his current parish, Our Lady of the Sorrows in St. Louis, the church said.

"I respect the policy of the archdiocese, and thus must leave the parish while the charge is reviewed," Wolken wrote in his letter.

Archdiocese under fire

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, serving about 555,000 Catholics, is the nation's third-oldest and one of the largest.

Already this month, the archdiocese had removed two priests on charges of sexual abuse, one for incidents that occurred 15 years ago. Another priest was removed after the FBI seized his computer in a child pornography investigation. A tougher policy the archdiocese unveiled earlier this month calls for removing priests accused of sexual abuse and for not allowing any priest with a past documented allegation of abuse to return to a parish.

Rigali has said the archdiocese is committed to reviewing and revising the policy "as our understanding continues to evolve."

"A very important part of the response to sexual abuse is to exert every effort so that it will never happen again," Rigali wrote in the letter released Wednesday. "The safety and well-being of our children and young people are our highest priority."

This week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said more than 30 people have responded to her public appeal for information about possible cases of sexual abuse by current or former Catholic priests. The city's prosecutor, who made the appeal after meeting with Rigali, has declined to provide any details about the complaints her office received.

Joyce has said Rigali told her he knew of no sexual assaults by priests since Aug. 28, 1987. The statute of limitations for most types of sexual assaults before that date has expired.

Believing it was cheaper to settle some cases than fight them in court, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said it has paid about $1.6 million over the past 20 years to alleged victims of sex crimes by priests.

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