ST. LOUIS — The Archdiocese of St. Louis has agreed to a legal settlement with a woman the archdiocese says falsely accused a priest who is known to have committed sexual abuse.
“The archdiocese has vigorously defended this case because it believes Jane Doe 92’s claims and allegations are false,” the archdiocese said July 7, using a pseudonym for the accuser, who is now 22 years old.
The archdiocese has acknowledged that the accused priest, Joseph Ross, abused boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
“To be clear, the archdiocese is not defending Ross. 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 and instead use its money for charitable work and to heal all legitimate victims of sexual abuse.”
The woman claims the priest abused her as a young girl between 1997 and 2001 at St. Cronan Parish.
She also claims that her father witnessed her alleged abuse by Ross and did nothing to stop it, an accusation her father denies. According to the archdiocese, the woman’s doctors have diagnosed her with a medical condition that causes her to make false claims and inconsistent statements.
“Her own doctors and expert witnesses voiced doubts about her allegations and noted that they contained multiple inconsistencies. We simply do not believe her allegations are true,” the archdiocese said.
Prosecutors declined to pursue charges against Ross because they believed they could not prove Jane Doe 92’s case. She has also accused another person of rape, which prosecutors declined to prosecute due to lack of evidence.
Attorney Ken Chackes, who represented the plaintiff, said in a statement that Jane Doe 92’s attorneys believe a jury would have found the priest guilty.
“We must, however, take action to preserve her health and well-being,” he said, saying that her alleged victimization “should never happen to any person.”
The woman’s lawyers, who include Minnesota attorney Jeff Anderson, had planned to use other abuse complaints drawn from records the archdiocese had been ordered to turn over, The Associated Press reported.
Potential witnesses in the trial included Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who is a former auxiliary bishop of St. Louis; Bishop Richard Sitka of Knoxville, Tenn.; and Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb. The latter two bishops had served in the St. Louis Archdiocese.
In 1988, Ross pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor sexual-assault charge and was sentenced to probation. The archdiocese then sent him for treatment at a medical facility whose doctors said the priest was not a pedophile and recommended he be returned to ministry, which the archdiocese did in 1989.
Other victims have accused the priest. The St. Louis Archdiocese said no other alleged victims have claimed the priest engaged in abuse in the years since 1989.
The priest was again removed from ministry in 2002 under new “zero-tolerance” standards and due to what the archdiocese said were “clear changes in society’s and the medical community’s views on the ability to treat child abusers.”
At the time of his removal, the archdiocese voiced regret at reassigning him and apologized to victims and their families. The priest was laicized in 2002.
In its statement, the archdiocese said it is committed to helping abuse victims and preventing sex abuse.
“The archdiocese and Archbishop Robert Carlson remain committed to eradicating the terrible and inherent societal evil of child abuse,” it said.
The terms of the settlement are confidential, and the archdiocese said that by the terms of the settlement agreement it will not make any further statements on the matter.
“The settlement is obviously also intended to allow the Church to move past this matter — a costly legal fight which is not good for the Church, its parishioners or the community as a whole,” the archdiocese said. “It is time for all parties to move forward.”