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Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston | [email protected]

‘By the grace of God,’ Father Joseph Jiang makes it through five-year quest to clear his name

As associate pastor of Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis Parish, Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang celebrates Masses, hears confessions, answers sacramental emergencies and more; in other words, the usual stuff of a typical priestly ministry for which all priests are thankful, but Father Jiang even more so.

For five years, his priestly ministry was in limbo at best, in doubt at worst.

Twice, he faced criminal charges alleging sexual abuse, in 2012 in Lincoln County and in 2014 in City of St. Louis, but in both cases, the allegations proved to be unfounded and charges were dropped. In addition, Father Jiang twice has prevailed in civil cases: one lawsuit filed against him related to the Lincoln County allegation and the second filed by him for defamation related to the St. Louis allegation.

"Five years was a long time ... but by the grace of God, I made it through," Father Jiang said. "Hopefully, this has made me more spiritual and holier. I'm more grateful to God for the gift of priesthood than the day I was ordained."

The federal defamation case in St. Louis was settled out of court and dismissed last month. Part of the settlement included an apology from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) for "any false or inaccurate statements" related to the criminal charge against Father Jiang. The judge in that case ordered SNAP defendants to pay his attorney's fees of $25,150.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis released SNAP's apology on Nov. 27:

"The SNAP defendants never want to see anyone falsely accused of a crime. Admittedly, false reports of clergy sexual abuse do occur. The SNAP defendants have no personal knowledge as to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang and acknowledge that all matters and claims against Fr. Jiang have either been dismissed or adjudicated in favor of Fr. Jiang. SNAP acknowledges that false claims of clergy sexual abuse injure those clerics falsely accused and the Roman Catholic Church. SNAP apologizes for any false or inaccurate statements related to the complaints against Fr. Joseph Jiang that it or its representatives made which in any way disparaged Fr. Joseph Jiang, Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, Monsignor Joseph D. Pins and the Archdiocese of St. Louis."

The defamation suit "was filed for the sake of the truth," Father Jiang said. "I'm so glad at the end of the day the truth wins out. SNAP issued a public apology, and rightly so."

Placed on administrative leave after the first allegation, in June 2012, Father Jiang, 31, returned to active ministry over the summer. He's been a priest for seven-and-a-half years, but has only about two-and-a-half years in active ministry.

A native of Shandong, China, Father Jiang came to the United States in 2006 and was sponsored by Archbishop Carlson, then the Bishop of Saginaw, Mich. Father Jiang was ordained in St. Louis in 2010.

The cases

The criminal charge in Lincoln County in June 2012 alleged inappropriate contact with a teenage girl, 16 years old, but was dropped in November 2013. Then, in the civil case related to that, the jury deliberated for two hours before finding in favor of Father Jiang and the Archdiocese of St. Louis on April 6 this year; the judge ordered the accuser to pay $29,200 to Father Jiang for court costs and $19,316 to the archdiocese.

The City of St. Louis Circuit Court charged Father Jiang in April 2014 but dropped the charge in June 2015. Later that month, Father Jiang filed the defamation suit in U.S. District Court in St. Louis against SNAP, its officials, the mother of the accuser and police. The allegation was reported through the Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline by a family who had pursued a claim against the archdiocese related to their child being bullied by other students at the former St. Louis the King School next door to the cathedral basilica.

According to the archdiocese, Father Jiang agreed to take an independent polygraph examination during the investigation. Examiners concluded that Father Jiang responded truthfully in his steadfast denials of sexual abuse of a minor at any point in his life, both during his interview and polygraph examination, the archdiocese stated.

In the defamation suit, Father Jiang reached the settlement with SNAP, its officials and the boy's mother last month. Last year, U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson granted Father Jiang's motion for sanctions against SNAP, its officials and the boy's mother based on their failure to comply with court orders to turn over evidence to Father Jiang's attorneys. Thus, she ordered that "designated facts" as set forth by Father Jiang — that he had been defamed and conspired against — "will be established" as fact.

The matter against the police remains as the only outstanding legal proceeding related to the allegations. A judge recently dismissed it as part of the SNAP case, but Father Jiang plans to refile it.

"I just want for the truth to be admitted," he said. 

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