Updated with comments from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, additional information about pending civil cases.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis settled a civil case Monday in which a young woman accused a former priest of raping her – and the archdiocese of putting her and other children at risk by moving the priest from parish to parish.
Jury selection was scheduled to get underway Monday morning in the case of Jane Doe 92 vs. Ross. The terms of the settlement are confidential.
"The archdiocese has vigorously defended this case because it believes Jane Doe 92’s claims and allegations are false,” said archdiocese communications director Katie Pesha, reading from a statement. "Specifically, the archdiocese denies that Jane Doe 92 was ever abused by Joseph Ross, a priest who was removed from ministry in 2002. We do not say this lightly."
Pesha said the plaintiff, who was 19 when she brought the suit in 2011, has been diagnosed with a medical condition that caused her to make false and inconsistent statements, and to exaggerate symptoms.
Watch Archdiocese of St. Louis communications director Katie Pesha read a prepared statement on the settlement of Doe vs. Ross.
Ross pleaded guilty in 1988 to misdemeanor assault charges for forcibly kissing and touching the buttocks of an 11-year-old parishioner at Christ the King in University City. The investigation into that incident revealed that Ross had been arrested twice for sexual misconduct, and had been accused in the 1970s of molesting an 8th grade boy who was a student at a parish in Woodson Terrace.
Ross was defrocked in 2002 for the 1988 conviction. At that time, the Archdiocese asked anyone who believed they had been abused by Ross to come forward. Five young men did so.
Doe alleges that she was abused occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s, while Ross was a priest at St. Cronan in south St. Louis. Ross was arrested in 2008 and charged with abusing Doe, but that criminal case never went to trial.
"To be clear, the Archdiocese is not defending Ross," Pesha said. “He is a known abuser, which is illegal, wrong and shameful. The Archdiocese does, however, have an obligation to defend itself against claims it believes are false."
Ken Chackes, an attorney for Doe, said in a statement that he stands by her allegations against Ross, but agreed to the settlement to "preserve her health and well-being."
"We believe in and applaud the courage of Jane Doe 92 and her decision to avoid the rigors of trial and begin the healing process. Her efforts through this case have already brought awareness in this community about the sordid history of Ross and how it was handled by the Archdiocese. Through that we hope this community is safer," Chackes said.
The Survivor’s Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) also applauded Doe’s courage, saying it was "sickened" by the Archdiocese's assertion that Doe's claims were not credible.
"If you're accused of wrongdoing, you can defend yourself without trashing your accuser," said SNAP executive director David Clohessy. "That's what we think Jesus would do. As cynical as it may sound, we believe that Archbishop [Robert] Carlson was sending a message today to other victims — If you come forward, and take legal action, and force us to turn over our long-secret records about cover-ups, we will be brutal with you."
As part of the lawsuit, the Archdiocese was forced to turn over to Doe's attorneys a list of clerics and church staff who were credibly accused of assaulting children. The list included the names of 115 individuals whose names were never made public. A protective order granted by Judge Robert Dierker appears to block attorneys in the Ross case from using that list as part of any future legal proceeding.
Rebecca Randles, a Kansas City attorney who has handled numerous civil cases involving priest sex abuse throughout Missouri, said at least 80 cases accusing the Archdiocese of St. Louis of moving abusive priests from parish to parish have been settled or otherwise disposed of.
In addition, Father Joseph Jiang faces criminal sodomy charges for allegedly abusing a boy who was a student at St. Louis the King elementary school. Jiang has pleaded not guilty in that case. He was accused in a separate case in Lincoln County of having improper contact with a 15-year-old girl — charges that were later dropped. The parents of the Lincoln County girl filed a civil suit, alleging that Archbishop Robert Carlson knew that Jiang was a threat to minors. A judge dismissed some of the civil charges in late June.
You can read additional background about Doe vs. Ross here.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann