Archbishop Justin Rigali issued a statement March 16 expressing sadness for the tragic reported cases of abuse in the 1970s involving a now-retired archdiocesan priest, Father Joseph Lessard.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported March 17 that Lessard admitted sexually abusing boys at three parishes.
"I deplore this grave evil of sexual abuse and extend my deep apologies to those who suffered abuse from Father Lessard and to their families," Archbishop Rigali said.
Father Lessard's assignments were made "according to the common psychological and professional practice of the time, which we now know to have been inadequate and, by current standards, unacceptable," Archbishop Rigali stated.
The Archbishop noted that today, later parish assignments given to Father Lessard would not have been repeated "because our present policy unambiguously excludes any priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse with a minor from an assignment to a parish or any other ministry with children."
Archbishop Rigali issued the more restrictive standard for the placement of priests earlier this month. Two pastors who had past allegations, but under the previous policy were believed by the monitoring committee to pose no risk to minors, resigned from their parishes. The accusations against the two priests dated back more than a dozen years.
Father Lessard retired in 1993 and lives near Prairie du Rocher, Ill. He was ordained March 8, 1952. He told the newspaper that the abuse cases occurred at assignments as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Moselle and Good Shepherd Parish in Hillsboro and as associate pastor of Incarnate Word Parish in Chesterfield. He initially received treatment in Minnesota in 1976 before his assignment in Chesterfield. After receiving further treatment at a center in New Mexico in 1979 he was assigned as a chaplain at St. Joseph Hospital in St. Charles and Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, with residence at Holy Innocents Parish in South St. Louis.
In the 1950s and '60s, Father Lessard served as associate pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in South St. Louis, St. George Parish in Affton and Most Blessed Sacrament Parish in North St. Louis and as pastor at Visitation-Holy Ghost Parish in North St. Louis. He told the newspaper no cases of abuse occurred at those parishes.