The Rev. Victor A. Frobas, a priest and convicted
molester of teen-age boys,
spent his last days grumbling that the Roman
Catholic Church should have done
more to make him stop.
A mother in
west St. Louis County believes to this day that someone in the
hierarchy should have known to keep Frobas away from children -
from her son.
And a man in Massachusetts, who said Frobas molested him
24 years ago, says
church officials had plenty of time to sound the alarm in
Frobas' story includes a trail of allegations that he
sexually abused boys in
at least three states during the 1970s and 1980s,
ending in Missouri with a
guilty plea and two years in prison. He died at
age 55 in a Catholic nursing
home in Shrewsbury in 1993, pursued by suits
and criminal charges from other
His story is one that has
become all too familiar as the Catholic Church
comes to grips with new
disclosures of past sexual abuse - a problem priest
shuttled from parish to
parish, city to city, with the reasons kept secret.
Frobas was ordained
in 1966 in Wheeling, W.Va., for the Diocese of
Wheeling-Charleston. He came
to St. Louis in 1983 for "treatment" - a term his
home diocese will not
elaborate upon. After a while, he began serving as a
visiting priest on
weekends at Holy Infant parish in Ballwin and St. Elizabeth
of Hungary in
On Aug. 2, 1988, he pleaded guilty in St. Louis County
Circuit Court of
molesting two boys, then 13 and 15, from Holy Infant. He
served 25 months in
prison and died of cancer and diabetes on July 11, 1993.
In the months before and after his death, criminal charges in Worcester,
Mass., and suits filed in Wheeling accused him of molesting boys during the
1970s - well before he came to St. Louis. It also turned out that Frobas had
been in Massachusetts back then for his first round of treatment.
who in St. Louis knew about his tendency, and when?
Terry Edelmann, a
spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, said Friday
the office did not
have time to review the Frobas case because of the
disclosures last week of
allegations about other priests. The Post-Dispatch
inquired about Frobas in
writing on Thursday morning.
On Jan. 1, 1988, an article in the St.
Louis Review that reported on Frobas'
indictment quoted then-auxiliary
Bishop Edward J. O'Donnell, now bishop of
Lafayette, La., as saying the
archdiocese never was told of anything about
Frobas "that would have
prevented him from effective parish service." The
Review is the official
But as he lay dying, Frobas complained to his
lawyer that church officials
had moved him around from state to state
without making much effort to cure him
of his sexual disorder, the lawyer
said. William J. Shaw, then the county's
public defender, remembered the
conversations because, he said, Frobas pondered
writing a book about himself
as a warning to others.
"He was very angry at the church and believed it
just shuffled him around to
cover up his problem all those years," Shaw said
last week. "It was clear to me
he was a pedophile. But the church
transferring him around, pretending all is
well, made for a very sad
situation. Maybe we're seeing the end of this."
The woman from Holy
Infant said her son, now 29, spent time with Frobas on
several occasions in
1985. Not until her family went to police two years later,
she said, did any
church official admit to her that Frobas had molested before.
when we were told that he had been a pedophile and had been sent here
treatment," said the woman, 64. "Did our pastor know this and, if he did,
why would he have let Frobas have any contact with our children? They
it up, and that makes me mad."
She said she can't remember
which priest told her about Frobas' past. Msgr.
Adolph Schilly, pastor of
Holy Infant until 1984, died two years ago. Neither
Msgr. Jerome Buchheit,
who replaced Schilly and now is retired, nor the Rev.
former assistant at Holy Infant and now pastor of Sacred
Heart parish in
Valley Park, could be reached for this article.
The woman said she did
not want her family's name published. The names of her
son and the other
victim are in the case file in the courthouse in Clayton but
never were made
public because Frobas pleaded guilty rather than face trial.
now a widow, still attends Holy Infant. She said her son has left
"He refuses to have anything to do with God," she said.
"This is part of what
really hurts the parents. They can hide these priests
and sweep these things
under the rug, but they don't think of the damage
that has been done to these
"That's the hurt that eats away at
me like a cancer," she said.
Problems in the parishes
David Clohessy, national director of a 3,500-member group called
(Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), said Frobas' trail
three states amounted to a standard practice back then and still
Clohessy said he was sexually abused by a priest in his native
starting when he was 11 until he was 15.
painfully common," said Clohessy, 45. "In recent years, bishops
to define it as ancient history. It's more common that priests
shifted within their diocese, but we have seen that, the smaller the
diocese, the more likely the solution will be to ship him elsewhere.
"When a new priest arrives in a parish, we all tend to trust him," he
"But, lacking any information from church leaders on backgrounds like
trust can prove dangerous."
A clinical psychologist who
has worked on the issue with the Archdiocese of
St. Paul and Minneapolis,
Minn., said church officials often were too
optimistic about the prospects
of reforming sex offenders. Gary Schoener, a
psychologist in Minneapolis,
said now-retired Archbishop John Roach asked him
to assist because some
offenders had been returned to parish work, only to
Schoener said he believed that therapists spent too little time with
and too much with offenders, often becoming too sympathetic to the
"When the recommendation letters come back, they are
said. "What they don't say is, 'Pull the plug on
this guy.' You don't take a
chronic alcoholic and turn him into a bartender.
That doesn't make sense."
A trail of trouble
the tale of Frobas, as related in 10-year-old newspaper articles from
cities, courthouse filings, statements from victims and comments by
spokesmen in Wheeling, Worcester and St. Louis:
Frobas, a native of
Philadelphia, served in West Virginia as a parish priest,
a counselor at a
Catholic youth camp and teacher at the Catholic high school in
allegedly molested a boy, a sophomore, at the school in 1977.
same year, Frobas moved to Massachusetts and became a resident of the
House of Affirmation, which was a retreat center near Worcester for
with psychological disorders. He served as a visiting priest at St.
Lima parish in Northboro, Mass., and organized the altar boys.
allegedly molested boys there in 1978 and 1979.
The suits and criminal
charges alleging the offenses at Wheeling Catholic
High School and St. Rose
in Northboro weren't filed until 1993 and 1994. Frobas
died before he could
be prosecuted in Worcester, and the suits in Massachusetts
and West Virginia
were settled and placed under seal in 1995 and 1996.
spokesman for the Wheeling diocese, said he could not find
in the files explaining why Frobas had gone to the House of
(Clohessy said the priest who abused him also had spent time
But Barry W. Houle, 40, of Northboro, said last week that diocesan
in Worcester had known of Frobas' tendencies since at least the
fall of 1978.
After Frobas sexually molested him in the St. Rose rectory,
Houle said, he
grabbed his clothes, fled and told his parents that night.
Houle said he and his parents spoke the next day to the Rev. Timothy J.
Harrington, then auxiliary bishop of Worcester and, a few days later, to the
director of the House of Affirmation.
"I told them exactly what
Frobas had done to me," Houle said. "Harrington
said, 'You don't have to go
to the authorities.' He promised that he would deal
with the matter. I never
was an altar boy again. I found out much later that
Frobas stayed several
more months and molested more boys."
Houle said he received money in a
settlement but is barred from disclosing
how much. Harrington is deceased.
Raymond L. Deslisle, spokesman for the
Worcester diocese, said he couldn't
find out when officials there learned of
the allegations of abuse.
Frobas' whereabouts from 1979 to 1983 could not be determined for this
article. Grammer said the Wheeling diocese placed Frobas on "sick leave" and
sent him here, to Dittmer, but declined to reveal the reason for the leave.
"Our bishop considers the matter closed, Grammer said."
article in the St. Louis Review said Frobas had gone to St.
in Sunset Hills. The Servants of the Paraclete, a Catholic
runs the center and treats priests and brothers who suffer
depression and other disorders.
The Paracletes also run the St. Jean
Vianney Renewal Center in Dittmer in
Jefferson County, the current residence
of six priests and brothers who were
convicted of sex-related offenses
across the country.
The Review said Frobas completed his treatment at
St. Michael's and began
working part-time at local parishes. The Rev. Peter
Lechner of Sunset Hills,
servant general of the Paracletes, said he could
not discuss particular cases
or confirm whether any priest ever has been at
one of its centers.
Lechner said he believed the medical and counseling
professions are better
now than in the 1980s at predicting the likelihood
that someone would offend
The mother said she remembered
Frobas as a dynamic preacher. Her first hint
of trouble was when Frobas came
by their home one day and asked if her son
could go with him on an errand.
"My son said, 'I don't want to go. Mom, don't make me go,'" she said.
never came into my mind. That didn't come up until later, when the
spoke to his parents, and they talked to us."
indictment accused Frobas of sexually molesting the two boys at the St.
Elizabeth rectory, where he had a room, and at a motel on South Lindbergh
Boulevard. He received a four-year sentence.
At the court hearing,
Frobas said, "I guess I'm glad all this is happening,
because it's been a
nightmare state for me, having done what I've done. . . . I
Something else also bothers the mother and Houle in Massachusetts.
The woman said her family received a letter on July 14, 1992, from the
Rev. John L. May, then St. Louis archbishop. It expressed condolences,
that the archdiocese was not responsible for Frobas' conduct - and
him as "the late Fr. Victor Frobas."
The woman said she
didn't know until last week that Frobas didn't die until
1993. Houle said
diocesan officials in Worcester also told him prior to Frobas'
death that he
already was deceased.
"When I found out I was lied to, I got his death
certificate from Missouri,"
said Houle. "I still have it. I want to be
William C. Lhotka, John M. McGuire and Dawn Fallik of the
contributed to this report.
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