January 6, 2005


Sex Abuse Group Criticizes Jefferson City Bishop

Sex Abuse Group Criticizes Jefferson City Bishop
Molestation Victims Should Be Urged To Contact Police, Not Church Officials
SNAP Urges Gaydos to Publicly Name Accused Priest

A support group for clergy sex abuse victims is criticizing Jeff City’s Catholic bishop and asking him to publicly name a priest who has been accused of molesting children. They also want diocesan leaders to reach out to anyone who may have experienced or witnessed crimes by the cleric.

On Jan. 23, at two parishes, church officials announced during masses that child sexual abuse allegations have been made against Fr. John Degnan.

Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, are urging Bishop John Gaydos to “live up to (your) promises to be more honest about abuse cases,” and let the public know that molestation allegations against Degnan have been made” through announcements in the news media and in the diocesan newspaper and church bulletins.

In a letter faxed and e mailed this morning to Gaydos, SNAP also criticized him for only telling church-goers about the allegations.

“Your carefully crafted plan to keep this “in house” smacks of the very secrecy that has for so many years cause so much undue pain to so many,” said SNAP leader Barbara Dorris of St. Louis.

“Degnan may have molested non-Catholics too, and many of his victims and their families have likely stopped attending mass or have moved out of the area,” the letter said. “If you strongly suspect Degnan has committed criminal acts against kids, you have a civic and moral duty to warn everyone about him, not just a few dozen parishioners.”

One official, Fr. Greg Higley made the disclosure at St. Joseph’s in Pilot Grove (660-834-4251). Higley is the Vicar General of the Jefferson City diocese (573-635-9127).

That same day, Msgr. Michael Flanagan made the same announcement at Sts. Peter and Paul church in Boonville (660-882-6468). Flanagan works at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia (573-445-7915).

Both parishes have families that once attended St. Martin’s Church between Pilot Grove and Boonville, which closed in the early 1970s. That is one of at least five parishes in the diocese where Degnan worked.

A similar announcement was made at Immaculate Conception parish in Montgomery City- Montgomery City (573-564-2375) on the weekend of January 16. Degnan worked at Immaculate Conception from 1982 to 1987.

A week later, a written announcement was included in some parish bulletins that did not name Degnan and encouraged victims to call the diocese.

SNAP also blasted Gaydos for asking that victims call church officials. “Molesting a child is a crime and should be treated as a crime,” SNAP writes. “Victims should contact police, prosecutors, therapists or self-help groups first, before even considering calling church leaders. Your advice that victims contact church authorities is very disturbing and suggests you’re more interested in damage control than justice and in your reputation than in children’s safety.”

The group reminded Gaydos that pedophiles usually molest children throughout their lifetime and that it only takes a pedophile few minutes to damage a child for life.

SNAP wants Gaydos to place notices in the diocesan paper and church bulletins encouraging anyone who has witnessed, suspected or been abused by a member of the clergy to contact police and prosecutors.

Father John F. Degnan attended college and theology school at Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri, from 1941-1951. He was at St. Mary’s in Kingman, Arizona, at least in 1951. Twice, he worked at St. Joseph’s in Westphalia twice: 1961-62 and 1971-1974. From 1982-1987, Degnan worked at Immaculate Conception in Montgomery City. He retired in 2001 and in 2002 he lived in Lake Ozark. At some point, he was also assigned to St. Lawrence parish in St. Elizabeth, MO.

SNAP, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for victims of clergy sexual abuse with support groups in over 60 cities nation wide.

For immediate release:
Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2005

For more information:
David Clohessy of St. Louis SNAP National Director 314 566-9790 cell,
Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP Outreach Director 314 862 7688