A former St. Louis priest was sentenced Thursday to four years probation on charges related an inappropriate relationship with a sixteen-year-old altar boy.
Though acquitted of outright sexual abuse in July, Fr. Robert Charles Manning was convicted on two charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor stemming from evidence that he had given a Colorado teenager liquor and marijuana in 2011. Manning apparently also accompanied the boy to get his nipples pierced and put his own signature on a parental consent form.
If four years of probation sounds light, that's because it is: Manning, 78, is in deteriorating health and relied on a wheelchair and oxygen tank to make it through his own trial. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports that the judge did consider sending the elderly priest to prison but chose not to since Manning would almost certainly end up serving his time in a hospital.
In a statement to Daily RFT, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis confirmed that Manning served in a number of Missouri parishes before he moved in 2007 to the Archdiocese of Colorado Springs, where he was given a position at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church. Manning has a connection to the bishop of Colorado Springs, Michael Sheridan, a former auxiliary bishop in St. Louis.
Here's an except from the statement:
Respect for those who are most vulnerable is a precept of our Catholic faith. Today, we pray for healing for the victim in this case and for God's hand to be on this situation. We ask that He may restore the faith and trust of this young person. We continue to pray for the safety and dignity of all children.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis encourages all persons with reports of misconduct with a minor involving a member of the clergy or other church personnel to contact Deacon Phil Hengen, director of child and youth protection, at 314.792.7704 or the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 800 392-3738 or law enforcement officials.
Manning had been named the 2010 Chaplain of the Year by the Colorado branch of the Knights of Columbus.
Despite the fact that Manning was acquitted of the more serious charges of sexual assault and possessing child pornography, the case remains troubling to David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"We would be shocked if he hadn't victimized someone here" in St. Louis, he says. "We ask Archbishop Carlson and every single Catholic employee in St. Louis to try and find others who saw, suspected or suffered his crimes and beg them to call enforcement."
Clohessy claims that a priest moving from one archdiocese to another, as Manning did in 2007, is highly unusual, adding that Manning would also have had ample access to children during his years of service in St. Louis parishes, which included St. Alban Roe in Wildwood (1998-2001), St. Lawrence the Martyr in Bridgeton (2001-2004, now closed), and St. John Lateran in Imperial (2004-2007). Each parish has its own parochial school.
Manning served at St. Gabriel the Archangel Catholic Church in Colorado Springs from 2007 until 2012, after the allegations of sexual abuse forced him to step down. He returned to St. Louis soon afterwards to live at the Regina Cleri House for retired priests.
"There is no reason to think that suddenly in his 70s he started acting inappropriately with children," says Clohessy, arguing that in the past Manning could have easily taken advantage of the trusting familiarity that parishioners -- and their children -- have for their priests.
Though no other allegations have been raised against Manning, Clohessy thinks other victims probably exist. "Common sense, history and psychology tell us that there are others who saw or suspected his crimes," he says.
Click through to read the Archdiocese of St. Louis's full statement regarding Fr. Robert Charles Manning