ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) – Catholic priests and clergy accused of child sexual abuse are living under the radar at a Missouri treatment center.
Nestled behind trees in a quiet neighborhood off Eime Road in Dittmer, MO, is a Catholic community shrouded in secrecy.
“There are sick people there,” said Michael Stenzhorn, who lives just across the street.
Signs outside the Vianney Renewal Center do not say who lives there.
“I believe there are hundreds, if not thousands, of sex offender clergy who have been through this,” said David Clohessy, the Missouri volunteer director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Child Abuse. priests (SNAP). “I think it’s only a matter of time before another kid gets hurt.”
Stenzhorn says that for years her family was in the dark.
“We really didn’t know what was going on, it could have been a priests’ retirement home as far as we knew,” Stenzhorn said. “We had no idea they were paedophiles.”
Stenzhorn and her family moved to the neighborhood 23 years ago. Around this time, the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal broke, exposing decades of cover-up and allegations against thousands of priests. It turns out that some of these men were taken out of the churches and sent to Dittmer, a small town outside of St. Louis.
“They drive to malls, I’ve seen them in restaurants, so they can come and go as long as they have a chaperone,” Stenzhorn said. “I always see new people, and I see younger.”
The center is run by the Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic religious order founded in 1947. The Servants of the Paraclete website claims to “provide care for priests and brothers in need.” Nothing mentions sexual abuse.
News 4 Investigates traveled to the Archdiocese of St. Louis for answers. The archdiocese declined an interview. In an email, a spokeswoman wrote, “Since the Vianney Renewal Center is independent of the Archdiocese, it is our practice to refer you directly to the facility itself.”
Clohessy says SNAP is pushing for more accountability and transparency.
“Bishops can do much more than they claim,” Clohessy said. “Children are safer when the public is made aware of child molesters.”
The Missouri Sex Offender Registry shows the Dittmer facility houses 6 former clergy convicted of child abuse. Some are names that have made national headlines, including former priest James Talbot, who was convicted of raping several students. The Missouri Sex Offender Registry shows that most men are classified at the most dangerous level, a level three. This means they will be on the registry for the rest of their lives.
News 4 Investigators found that not everyone living at the center is on the Missouri registry.
Robert Brouillette is charged in civil lawsuits and settlements with abusing dozens of children while teaching in schools across the country. Brouillette was convicted in Illinois of child pornography and required to register as a sex offender. The Illinois Sex Offender Registry shows that Brouillette lives “out of state.”
The News 4 investigation found Brouillette’s name on the National Sex Offender Registry, with his address as a center in Dittmer. However, on the Missouri list, Brouillette’s name never appears.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” Clohessy said. “More and more problem priests are being sent to these establishments and we know less and less about them.”
News 4 Investigates has obtained a list compiled by private investigators working with survivors of church sex abuse. He appoints just over 100 clergy with an address related to the Paraclete Center Servants in recent years. The majority of men admitted to or were accused of sexual abuse. Some of the men appear on recent church lists naming clergy who have credible allegations of abuse, but since they have never had criminal convictions, there is no jail time and no obligations. to register as a sex offender.
“I think the answer is very simple,” Clohessy said. “At the bare minimum, be honest about who they are and why they are there.”
News 4 Investigates called and emailed Paraclete Servants, none of the messages were returned. On Dittmer’s property, “No Trespassing” signs are posted at every entrance.
Some people try to make it easy to get information.
Terry McKiernan helps run BishopAccountability.org, a website dedicated to compiling the names of clergy accused or convicted in church sex scandals. So far, the site has registered more than 7,400 people.
“According to our estimate, about 10% of known accused priests never face criminal charges even if what they are doing is a crime.” McKiernan said.
The church does not maintain a central list of names, but separate names are published by dioceses across the country. In St. Louis, the archdiocese’s website includes a “list release” page where there are names but no details of the charges.
“Only if people pay attention to it is it going to be changed and improved,” McKiernan added.
A Missouri lawmaker is trying to make changes.
“I think it’s kind of a glaring hole in our system that we haven’t addressed,” Rep. Robert Sauls (D-Independence) said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”
Sauls proposed a bill requiring a state license for centers dealing with “sexually deviant behavior.”
“When something goes wrong, people wonder why,” he said. “The reason things went wrong is because we didn’t have regulations in place.”
The proposed bill would also require centers to hire a doctor, psychologist or other person with advanced training to treat people living there. It would also require treatment with “techniques that have been tested and proven by scientific research to be beneficial for people who have engaged in sexually deviant behavior.”
This is the second time Sauls has proposed the bill, he says he doesn’t get enough support in the Missouri Capitol. Sauls says he plans to reintroduce the bill next session, which News 4 Investigates will continue to track.
“I think you could probably ask 9 out of 10 people on the street and they would think we should probably have something in place for those types of facilities,” Sauls said.
One person fighting for change is John Bellocchio, who got involved after it was discovered that his alleged abuser, former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, was living in Dittmer Centre.
“They have a moral and ethical responsibility to make sure no child has gone through what I went through,” Bellocchio said. “It is of great concern to me as a victim because it is essentially a residential hot tub with no doors.”
McCarrick was recently arrested at the center and flown back to Massachusetts where he was charged with sexually assaulting a teenager nearly 50 years ago. The arrest makes him the highest-ranking Catholic leader to be criminally charged with child sex crimes.
Opposite center, Stenzhorn says he feels stuck.
“I wrote letters to everyone, I wrote letters to the pope,” he said. “What’s going to happen? Are we going to lose a house because we can’t get anything out of it?”
The center bought the houses on either side and made an offer on its own, but Stenzhorn says the price wasn’t high enough. He didn’t sell, now he’s surrounded and lives in a house he doesn’t know who wants to buy.
“They should have redeemed me and taken care of me like they took care of my neighbors,” Stenzhorn added. “Their people are there and they are going to protect them.”
Missouri Highway Patrol told News 4 Investigates that while it maintains the state’s central sex offender registry, it is up to the county sheriff’s office to ensure offenders are registered.
The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office is where people living in Dittmer should go if they need to register. A spokesperson for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said they are reviewing the case involving Robert Brouillette to determine if he lives in the area.
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