Immediately after the Archdiocese of St. Louis settled a civil lawsuit Monday from a woman who accuses a priest of molesting her as a child, church officials went after the alleged victim, discrediting her claims and dismissing her as mentally ill.
The archdiocese admits that the accused ex-priest, Joseph Ross, sexually assaulted at least one boy before being defrocked in 2002. But in Monday's statement, executive director of communications Katie Pesha says the woman, known in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe 92, lied about her abuse and has "very personal issues" regarding her mental health.
"We simply do not believe her allegations are true."
Jane Doe's attorney, Ken Chackes, the Circuit Attorney's Office and several therapists have supported her allegations.
"We believe a jury would have ultimately found that Fr. Ross raped Jane Doe 92," Chackes said Monday. "We must, however, take action to preserve her health and well-being. We agree with the archdiocese that there is no healing for Jane Doe 92 that would come from a three-week trial of these difficult and personal facts."
Jane Doe is accusing Ross of sexual assault, sometimes while he babysat her as her mother attended choir practice. The lawsuit says 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."
The lawsuit also accuses the archdiocese of knowingly placing Ross, an admitted sex offender, back into ministry at St. Cronan Church where he could abuse more victims. Ross moved to St. Cronan in 1989 after a year of inpatient therapy.
The criminal case against Ross and the archdiocese fell through in 2010. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said that while her office had "full confidence in the victim's allegations," she didn't have enough evidence to go to trial.
But things changed in January, when a judge in the civil lawsuit ruled that Jane Doe could have access to the archdiocese's list of all the sex allegations filed against priests. The so-called "matrix" lists 115 employees accused of molesting children from 1983 to 2003.
Attorney Ken Chackes told Daily RFT then he hoped to use the matrix to establish a pattern of reckless disregard for the safety of parish children. But now that the civil case is settled out of court, the future of legal challenges against the church remains unclear.
SNAP, the leading group advocating for victims of clergy sexual abuse, denounced the archdiocese's post-lawsuit statement, accusing it of using the resources and experience in "cover-up cases" to find experts who would "disparage this brave victim."
"Katie Pesha should be ashamed of herself for savaging this brave young woman today," the group says in a statement. "Years from now, we suspect that she will be. And we hope she will then try her best to make amends."
SNAP is demanding an explanation or apology from the church for placing a known abuser in a local church. The archdiocese said Monday it relied on Ross' doctors, who said in 1989 the priest was no longer a pedophile. Thirteen years later, the archdiocese revoked his religious standing "in the wake of clear changes in society's and the medical community's views on the ability to treat child abusers."
Jane Doe's case won't go to trial, and both sides have agreed to keep details of the final settlement quiet. But that didn't stop the archdiocese from one final attempt to poke as many holes in her story as it could.