The sex abuse allegations against Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang received renewed attention this month with St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson facing a subpoena and church leaders facing a lawsuit from the accuser's family. As the criminal investigation and legal complaint move forward, a group of Jiang supporters have emerged, most recently launching a website to defend the local priest.
"We believe in Father Joseph's innocence," says Lucy Hannegan, who created the Friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang website. "We don't want to see him tried and convicted in the court of public opinion."
Victims' advocates, however, are slamming this public defense of Jiang as an irresponsible campaign that is damaging and offensive to the accuser and her family.
See also: - Reverend Xiuhui "Joseph" Jiang Charged with Fondling Teenage Girl - Fr. Joseph Jiang: Archbishop Robert Carlson Subpoenaed in Priest Sex Abuse Case - St. Louis Archdiocese Cancels Event to Pray for "Exoneration" of Accused Priest
Jiang has been on administrative leave from his position as an associate pastor at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis since allegations first surfaced last year. Jiang is accused of repeatedly molesting a teenage girl in her home and victims' groups say Carlson tried to cover it up. The lawsuit filed earlier this month alleges that Jiang admitted the abuse to Carlson and tried to pay the family to keep quiet. The complaint also says that Carlson and Jiang were very close and that the archbishop attempted to tamper with evidence by asking the family to give back Jiang's payments.
The churchgoers supporting Jiang -- who are not affiliated with archdiocesan officials -- first got attention with a planned event at the Cathedral Basilica to pray for the "defense and exoneration" of the priest. The Archdiocese canceled the event, had the meetup.com listing deleted and told Daily RFT at the time that it did not know about it until our inquiry.
Now, supporters are running a Friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang blog page, which, Hannegan says, will be used to post updates about the case -- and as a continued defense of the priest.
"There are a lot of priests who have done bad things and they should be punished, but we don't believe Father Joseph is guilty," says Hannegan, a churchgoer who lives in St. Louis and works in retail. "The accusations are out of character with the man I know.... It's not fair to someone who's been accused to treat him this way. That's what the courts are for."
She continues, "People who are acquitted don't get the same publicity.... We're trying to protect his character."
Of the website, she says, "We're going to keep things updated, to try to give both sides of the story."
Hannegan adds, "We're continuing our prayers for everybody involved."
Continue for response from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The Archdiocese has denied the allegations against Carlson and plans to argue they are false in a legal response to the lawsuit. (A spokeswoman did not have any comment for Daily RFT regarding the Friends of Fr. Joseph blog, other than reiterating that the Archdiocese is not affiliated with this website).
Lucy and her husband Bill Hannegan say they are frustrated with the local victims' rights group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) for harming the reputation of accused priests in the past who were ultimately not charged.
Bill Hannegan points Daily RFT to the case of Father Robert Osborne, who was his teacher in high school. "SNAP just kept coming after him and totally trashed his reputation."
In that case, the police investigation ended with no criminal charges. Osborne had always denied the allegations.
David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP, points to the fact that Archdiocese officials did remove Osborne's priestly authority.
"If people think Osborne is innocent, they need to take it up with church officials, not us," Clohessy says.
Of the continued effort to defend Jiang, he says, "It's just so difficult for people to believe that a man who treated them nicely can be a monster to others."
"Child molesters don't have forked tongues and devil horns," he says. "They are almost all...without exception charismatic."
He continues, "It's puzzling why a handful of Catholics immediately assume that the girl, her parents, the police, the prosecutors, two experienced civil attorneys and SNAP are all wrong...just because Father Jiang seems holy to them."
SNAP also argues that false allegations are very uncommon.
"We wish that even one Catholic bishop anywhere would have the courage to explain to his congregants how rare a wrongful allegation of abuse against a priest is made," Clohessy says.