A jury in Lincoln County took little time April 6 to find in favor of both Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang and the Archdiocese of St. Louis in a civil lawsuit that alleged the priest had sexual contact with a 16-year-old girl in 2012. In the trial, the plaintiff sought more than $1 million in compensatory damages. The jury began deliberations just past 1 p.m. and returned the verdict just before 3 p.m.
A statement from the archdiocese reported that "the archdiocese and Father Jiang have steadfastly denied these allegations since they were first raised and are pleased with the jury's decision."
In closing arguments, Jerry Carmody, an attorney for Father Jiang, detailed dozens of reasons why the jury should dismiss the allegations. First, he said, Father Jiang, a native of Shandong, China, could have returned to his home country instead of remaining to fight the allegations. He also said Father Jiang never attempted to be alone with the teenage girl, now 21. The allegation was unbelievable, he said, because it was said to have happened in a family room with the teen's parents and siblings present, seven people in all. It was alleged to have occurred while they were sitting under a blanket on the living room couch.
The two didn't have sexual or romantic texts, Carmody said. The family didn't contact the police with their suspicions, he added. The girl, he said pointing to testimony, was controlled by her mother and afraid of the consequences if she didn't go through with the lawsuit.
Father Jiang adamantly denied the accusation that he had sexually abused her and maintained his innocence throughout the time frame.
The family, with whom Father Jiang had developed a familial relationship, had collectively been subjected to emotional abuse at the hands of a cult before meeting Father Jiang, according to testimony. After being manipulated and victimized for four years by a woman who had claimed to see evil spirits in the family's children, the family sought assistance in healing from Father Jiang.
Father Jiang accepted the family's invitations to stay overnight at the family's house rather than make a long drive back to his residence in the rectory at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Father Jiang testified that he takes full responsibility for not drawing clear lines and allowing the boundaries between priest and parishioners to be blurred.
The blurring of those lines ultimately led to Father Jiang's offer to help the family purchase a house — an offer which he rescinded on the advice of Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Less than twenty-four hours after rescinding the offer of assistance, the allegation of abuse was made.
According to expert testimony in the case, the young woman suffered no damage from her relationship with Father Jiang and doesn't suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, as was claimed in court. According to her journal entries, which were made public during the trial, she neither suffered from her friendship with Father Jiang, nor did she support the lawsuit that her parents had brought against him.
Father Jiang, 31, was ordained in St. Louis in 2010. A graduate of Holy Spirit High School Seminary in Ji Nan, China, he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Holy Spirit College Seminary in Ji Nan.
The Archdiocese of St. Louis placed Father Jiang on administrative leave following the report involving alleged inappropriate contact with a high school-aged minor. The Archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection notified the Missouri Division of Family Services immediately upon learning of the allegations.
Criminal charges against Father Jiang were dropped November 2013. He was charged June 28, 2012, in Lincoln County with a felony count of endangering the welfare of a child, a first-degree offense involving sexual conduct.
Father Jiang will now enter a process for the return to active ministry, according to the archdiocese.