The St. Louis Archdiocese had what Archbishop Robert Carlson called sad news about clergy sexual abuse.
On May 1, the archdiocese posted a statement from Carlson on its website saying he had permanently removed the Rev. Leroy Valentine, 71, from ministry. An internal, lay investigatory board had determined that “incidents” taking place “in the 1970s” which had been “only recently brought to our attention” were credible, Carlson said.
The archdiocese also published an article in its weekly newspaper, the St. Louis Review, about Valentine’s removal saying the “allegation of abuse occurred in the 1970s.”
A closer look at Valentine’s story reflects a 30-year journey that neatly embodies the Roman Catholic church’s struggle to deal with its sexual abuse troubles over that time.
It’s a sad story — Carlson is right — about a priest who has been repeatedly accused of abuse, and yet neither the law nor the church can prove it. So the archdiocese, despite proclaiming again and again through the years that no allegation against Valentine has been found credible, says he’s “been monitored and supervised continuously since 1999.” He is not guilty. He is not innocent.
In 1995, three adult brothers sued the archdiocese accusing Valentine of molesting them in 1982. The brothers had been members at St. Piux X Catholic Church in the Glasgow Village area and attended the school there.
Valentine denied the charges, and then-Archbishop Justin Rigali backed him up in court. He put Valentine on administrative leave, and for a time Valentine entered a Catholic facility for troubled priests in eastern Franklin County. Subsequently his address was listed as a St. Louis apartment building.
In 1998, the archdiocese paid each of the brothers $20,000 settlements, and the following year Rigali assigned Valentine to a new parish.
In its story this week, the Review said that Valentine had “repeatedly stated” that the brothers’ allegations was untrue, and “was not found to be credible by civil authorities, and he was returned to active ministry.”
Rigali assigned Valentine to be associate pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle in Florissant in October 1999. In a letter to parishioners, the church’s pastor said “the conclusion of the therapists who evaluated Father Valentine is clear that he poses no threat to children. Additionally, the allegation has been resolved with no finding of guilt or liability on the part of Father Valentine.”
But a little more than two years later, the clergy abuse crisis had rocked the Catholic church back on its heels, and Valentine became the subject of a front-page New York Times story and multiple stories in the Post-Dispatch.
As the crisis expanded during the first months of 2002, the St. Louis archdiocese tightened its abuse policy saying no priest with a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse would be allowed to work in a pastoral setting or a position that provided access to children.
After two priests accused of abuse resigned under the new policy, the archdiocese was under pressure to answer questions about any of its priests who had been accused of abuse in the past. Then-auxiliary Bishop Timothy Dolan (now a cardinal and archbishop of New York) said allegations against Valentine and two other priests who had been sued in civil court were unsubstantiated. The archdiocese had no plans to remove them or to review previous complaints, he said.
“There is nobody we are worried about in the ministry,” Dolan said.
He told the New York Times that, “we have to be able to say, we have to be able to believe, that there is no priest in a parish against whom there is a credible claim of clerical sexual abuse.”
Three days later, the archdiocese issued a statement specifically about Valentine, saying it “continues to support Father Valentine in his ministry to the people of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.”
But then, a few weeks later, a former altar boy came forward. He was 32, and told the Post-Dispatch that he was 8 at the time Valentine had molested him, in 1978 at Immacolata Church in Richmond Heights. Valentine allegedly put the boy on his lap while hearing his confession, then put his hands in the boy’s pants.
“I was molested during the first sacrament I ever received,” the man said.
The archdiocese said then that it was investigating new accusations against Valentine “from many years ago.” The alleged misconduct dated to the 1980s, the archdiocese says now.
Valentine resigned from St. Thomas during that investigation but maintained his innocence, saying his departure was “in the best interest of our parish family, of the archdiocese and for my own personal well-being.”
But eventually, the allegations leading to Valentine’s resignation were also found to be unsubstantiated by the archdiocese’s advisory board.
And yet despite being cleared by the archdiocese, Valentine never returned to public ministry.
From his resignation in 2002 until 2005, Valentine lived in a private residence, according to the statement. Since then, he’s been living “in a retirement home.” Public records indicate that is Regina Cleri, the archdiocese’s retirement home for priests on its campus headquarters in Shrewsbury. A request to speak with Valentine went unreturned.
The archdiocese did not distribute a release about Valentine to the secular press. It declined to directly answer questions provided by the Post-Dispatch for this column. It also declined to make anyone available for an interview. Instead, it issued a statement from Phil Hengen, director of its Child and Youth Protection office, who said the recent, credible allegation took place in 1978.
The allegation involved “inappropriate touching of a minor” and the archdiocese learned of it last summer, Hengen said in the statement.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Angela Shelton said the recent allegation involves a single person who says Valentine abused him “on more than one occasion.”
Archdiocese officials investigated, and the process concluded with Carlson’s announcement May 1.
“Father Valentine,” according to Hengen, “will continue to live in a monitored, secure environment.”