Updated 4:15 p.m. with comment from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
A lawsuit filed today paints a disturbing picture of abuse within a St. Louis Catholic Church.
According to the complaint filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, Father Joseph Ross of St. Cronan's Church sexually molested a female parishioner over the span of four years in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Moreover, the archdiocese should have known he was a threat to churchgoers.
The suit suggests that the molestation began when the female victim was just five to six years old. The plaintiff, "Jane Doe 92," is now 19 years old.
According to the lawsuit, Ross told the girl he was disciplining her on behalf of God and that she was helping him overcome his sexuality because he "liked boys more than girls." Some of the sexual abuse -- which allegedly included hand-to-genital, genital-to-genital and object-to-genital contact -- occurred while the victim was in Ross' care as her mother attended choir practice. The suit alleges the abuse occurred in various rooms inside the church in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood.
In 2002 the St. Louis Archdioceses removed Ross from St. Cronan's, according to the suit, but didn't warn the congregation about his acts of molestation. The suit further contends that the archdiocese was aware of Ross' history of sexual abuse before he was ever assigned to St. Cronan's.
In 1988, Ross pleaded guilty in St. Louis County Circuit Court to sexually abusing an 11-year-old boy in University City. Afterward, the archdiocese allegedly sent Ross to St. Luke Institute, a Maryland center that treats priests for sexual disorders. From there he was assigned to St. Cronan's.
Ken Chackes, one of the attorneys representing Jane Doe, tells Daily RFT
that another priest at St. Cronan's found out about Ross' past and asked the archdiocese if he was fit to serve. Two representatives of the archdioceses allegedly gave the concerned priest their assurances.
The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Ross for sexual abuse and/or battery and the same from the St. Louis Archdioceses for negligent supervision of a priest, failure to supervise clergy and failure to supervise children.
The St. Louis Archdiocese, meanwhile, notes that criminal charges related to Ross' abuse of Jane Doe were dropped last year.
"The plaintiff in this civil case is the same person who brought criminal charges against Joseph Ross for abuse reportedly occurring in 1998-2000 when Joseph Ross was the pastor at St. Cronan Catholic Church. These charges were subsequently dropped by the Circuit Attorney for the City of St. Louis in August 2010," said the archdiocese in a statement.
Speaking last year, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce stated that her office had "full confidence in the victim's allegations"
but did not feel it had sufficient evidence to proceed at trial.
See a copy of the lawsuit here