Former New Madrid priest investigated for 1980s incident
SPRINGFIELD -- After identifying priests who have been investigated for allegations of sexual abuse of minors since 1984, Bishop John Leibrecht promised to change how the diocese handles future allegations.
Three priests have been forced to retire during Leibrecht's 17 years as leader of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese. He identified two additional priests Tuesday as the Rev. Lawrence Gregovich, who had served at Immaculate Conception in New Madrid, and the Rev. Amel Shibley of St. Michael parish in Fredericktown and formerly with St. Francis Xavier parish in Sikeston.
Both Gregovich and Shibley were investigated in separate incidents in the 1980s involving young boys.
Church officials earlier identified the third priest investigated for sexual abuse as the Rev. Leonard R. Chambers, who was forced to retire in 1998.
Gregovich was forced to retire in 1992. Leibrecht said he told Shibley on March 3 that his services would no longer be needed.
Leibrecht said that from now on, the diocese would handle such allegations immediately, would reveal them to the parishes and would be more willing to report accusations to civil authorities. He also said priests who sexually abuse minors would not be allowed to do work in a parish or celebrate Mass.
''He could never, ever function again in his whole life,'' Leibrecht said of any such priest.
Shibley retired in 1995. But Leibrecht said he called upon Shibley two years later to work part-time ''under strict boundaries,'' performing sacramental duties at the southeast Missouri church.
''I told him that I would no longer call upon him, even part-time, to make sure that everybody understands how serious we are taking this,'' Leibrecht said.
Chambers and Shibley did not immediately return a call Tuesday night from The Associated Press. Gregovich was said to be ill and living at an undisclosed Carthage nursing home.
There are no accusations of sexual abuse of minors currently before diocese officials, Leibrecht said.
Leibrecht acknowledged in a letter read by priests at weekend Masses that he had handled three such cases since he began overseeing the 85 parishes and missions in the dioceses in 1984. The letter did not identify the priests, but said they were no longer allowed to perform Mass.
Leibrecht said he did not name them because he did not want to detract from the purpose of his message, which was to discuss church policy and to assure the some 62,000 parishioners that he was committed to investigating abuse.
''I go to a different parish each weekend, and I realized so many people had questions about what was happening in our diocese,'' he said.
Leibrecht said he knew questions would be raised about their identities.
''We have revealed all three names, and I think it was an appropriate decision,'' he said Tuesday.
Gregovich was accused of three incidents of sexual misconduct while he was pastor of Immaculate Conception in New Madrid from 1982 to 1985, Leibrecht said. The church began its investigation in 1992 after a family came forward, he said.
Leibrecht did not give specifics, but said he asked Gregovich -- who was serving as pastor of St. Mary's in Joplin -- to retire in April 1992. He had been a priest for 20 years. Over the years, he also had served parishes in Charleston, Springfield and Verona.
''Each case is different, but in this case, retirement seemed the most appropriate,'' he said.
Leibrecht said he received a letter in 1993 alleging Shibley had been involved in sexual misconduct with a boy while at St. Francis Xavier in Sikeston during the mid-1980s. Shibley, who was pastor there from 1976 until 1992, admitted wrongdoing, Leibrecht said.
Another letter arrived at Leibrecht's office in 1995. It alleged Shibley had been involved in sexual misconduct with another Sikeston boy. Shibley retired in August 1995, after 33 years as a priest.
''We handled that internally. We did not send him to a treatment center,'' Leibrecht said. ''As I said, each one is different. In the case of Father Gregovich and Father Chambers, we sent them for counseling. But we felt we could handle this one internally.''
Before his retirement, Shibley also served parishes in New Hamburg, Springfield, Piedmont, Williamsville, Malden, Portageville and New Hamburg.
Meanwhile, Chambers was a priest at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Springfield when he was accused of abuse in 1981.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, as a bishop in Missouri, handled that case before he was sent to the Boston archdiocese and encountered the problem of now defrocked priest John J. Geoghan.
Law sent Chambers to 10 months of therapy, then placed him in two more parishes in the diocese. Leibrecht said he ordered Chambers to retire in 1998 after he was found alone with a minor -- an incident that didn't involve sexual misconduct but did violate conditions established by Leibrecht.
None of the incidents were reported to law enforcement, Leibrecht said. All the victims were offered counseling, he said.
''We have not reported any of them to the authorities because, on the advice of diocesan counsel, Missouri law does not require such reporting. Some states do, but Missouri is not one of those states,'' he said.
The families have the right to initiate prosecution, but none have, Leibrecht said. No lawsuits have been filed.