Churchgoers Defend St. Louis Priest Accused of Sex Abuse, Pray in Private Meetup Group

joseph-jiang-headshot.jpg
via
Father Joseph Jiang.
Earlier this week, local victims' rights advocates were outraged when they saw an invitation to a meet-up at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis to pray for the "defense and exoneration" of Father Xiu Hui "Joseph" Jiang, a priest accused of repeatedly molesting a teenage girl. Representatives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis said they were not aware of the event until Daily RFT reached out. They ultimately canceled it and had the meetup.com listing removed.

The organizers behind the event, however, went forward with the prayer last night, moving it to a private home. These churchgoers and supporters of Jiang emphasize that they are not affiliated with the archdiocese and have no gripes about church leaders' decision to cancel.

"We completely believe in his innocence," says Lucy Hannegan, who has known Jiang for years and has organized informal efforts to back him in the wake of the criminal charges. "We support him, and we stand behind him."

See also:
- Reverend Xiuhui "Joseph" Jiang Charged with Fondling Teenage Girl
- Fr. Joseph Jiang: Archbishop Robert Carlson Subpoenaed in Priest Sex Abuse Case
- St. Louis Archdiocese Cancels Event to Pray for "Exoneration" of Accused Priest

At the same time, leaders with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- the victims' rights organization that initially alerted us to the controversial prayer event -- are doubling down on their criticisms of those publicly supporting the accused priest, as well as the leadership of the archdiocese.

SNAP argues that it's hard to believe archdiocese officials didn't know about the event and that the leaders of the church have created this culture that is intimidating to victims and protects the accused.

"By publicly rallying around an arrested, charged and credibly accused child-molesting cleric, they're making it tougher on teens who are being abused and adults who have been abused to report offenders, help police and protect children," Judy Jones, assistant Midwest director of SNAP, says in a statement (full commentary on view below). "It's already tough to step forward if you are being or have been molested. It becomes much tougher, though, when churchgoers and church staff publicly disbelieve an alleged victim and back an alleged abuser."

robert-carlson.jpg
via
Archbishop Robert Carlson.

Jiang was charged a year ago and faces allegations that he molested a teenage girl on four separate occasions (not on church property). His trial has been delayed several times, and Archbishop Robert Carlson has been subpoenaed to testify in the criminal investigation.

Hannegan says that once Jiang was charged, she began organizing a "Friends of Father Joseph" group that meets sporadically to pray for him. She says his supporters have met in the church before.

"We believe in his innocence, and we believe he is a good and holy man," she says.

Asked about criticisms from victims' rights groups, she says, "We pray for everybody in the judicial system. We pray for all priests.... We pray for justice."

She says the group prays for the accuser as well, adding, "It's up to the jury to decide.... We're not convicting anybody right now."

joseph-jiang.jpg
Joseph Jiang's mug shot.

Of the archdiocese's decision to cancel yesterday's event at the cathedral, she says, "I completely understand their position. I have no bad feelings about that at all."

She adds of Jiang, "He's a good priest and a holy priest."

Court documents allege that Jiang attempted to pay the family off and say that he was a close family friend who went to the victim's home often. Archdiocese officials have not commented on the specifics of the criminal case as it is pending, and an attorney for Jiang did not respond to Daily RFT last week.

The archdiocese, in its statement to Daily RFT about the event, says that it would be "inappropriate for the Archdiocese to encourage prayer specifically for the exoneration of Fr. Jiang. We do pray for Fr. Jiang, as we pray for everyone involved in this situation. More specifically, we pray for justice and healing for all parties involved."

Here's the full commentary from Jones of SNAP, followed by the archdiocese's full statement to us about the originally planned prayer hour at the cathedral.

Those who commit child sex crimes are sick. They largely cannot help themselves.

Those who publicly back child sex offenders, however, are even more morally culpable. They deliberately choose to act in ways that hurt children. They should be ashamed of themselves.

This includes a group of young adults at the Cathedral parish. Tonight they were to hold a prayer service for Fr. Joseph Jiang. Fr. Jiang is accused of repeatedly molesting a girl last year. He's been arrested and charged.

These parishioners were not praying for "justice to be done." They weren't praying "for the truth to emerge." They weren't praying for "all parties involved." They were praying for an arrested, charged and credibly accused predator priest's "defense and exoneration."

Shame on them.

And shame on their pastor, who claims he didn't know what was happening at his parish. Frankly, we find this hard to believe, especially since this event was apparently planned for months.

In a nutshell, here's our choice: we adults can either make it easier or make it harder to help victims and stop molesters. Cathedral parishioners and staff are making it harder.

By publicly rallying around an arrested, charged and credibly accused child molesting cleric, they're making it tougher on teens who are being abused and adults who have been abused to report offenders, help police, and protect children.

It's already tough to step forward if you are being or have been molested. It becomes much tougher, though, when church goers and church staff publicly disbelieve an alleged victim and back an alleged abuser.

"But Fr. Jiang hasn't been convicted, so don't we have the right to publicly speak out on his behalf?" some might add.

Of course Fr. Jiang's backers have the right to publicly support him. But they shouldn't.

Because it hurts kids. It scares victims. It silences witnesses. It intimidates whistleblowers. It makes it harder to prosecute all molesters. It makes it easier for those who commit and conceal to get by with and continue their reckless, hurtful, deceitful and self-serving wrongdoing.

Remember the evidence that has already surfaced in this case: text messages, voice mails, and a $20,000 check from the priest to the girl's family. And an arrest and two felony charges. This isn't an old "he said, she said" case.

Why does this "rally around the accused priest" scenario keep happening? Because Archbishop Carlson either doesn't care or secretly wants it. We suspect that Carlson likes playing "good cop" and taking the "high road" in abuse cases while his employees and parishioners play "bad cop." Carlson professes to care about abuse victims, while letting his underlings blast abuse victims.

Catholic dioceses now provide training for kids on how to stop abuse and for adults on how to spot abuse. Why not train people on how to act decently when abuse reports surface? Is it because that kind of training might actually help more victims step forward and cause the archdiocese more embarrassment when more child molesting clerics are exposed, arrested, charged and convicted?

Even Catholic officials admit that the overwhelming majority of child sex allegations against priests are legitimate (especially when criminal charges have been filed). Still if you want to believe Fr. Jiang is innocent, you certainly can. But remember this teenaged girl. What if she were your daughter?

And think of other boys and girls in the Cathedral parish and the St. Louis area who have been or are being sexually violated by coaches, teachers, parents or ministers. How will you feel if, years from now, one of them says "I would have spoken up sooner, but I saw how Cathedral parishioners backed Fr. Jiang, not his alleged victim, so I thought no one would believe me. Now I regret keeping quiet because my perpetrator has since assaulted other kids."

From an Archdiocese spokeswoman:

The leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Louis was unaware of this event until your inquiry. The young adult ministry group of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis regularly meets for prayer on a bi-weekly basis, and this holy hour served in place of a regularly scheduled meeting. The Cathedral rector was aware that a holy hour was to take place, even that prayers would be offered for Fr. Joseph, but he was not aware of the express intention as phrased in the Meetup description. The holy hour has since been cancelled and the website taken down. It would be inappropriate for the Archdiocese to encourage prayer specifically for the exoneration of Fr. Jiang. We do pray for Fr. Jiang, as we pray for everyone involved in this situation. More specifically, we pray for justice and healing for all parties involved.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

My Voice Nation Help
45 comments
Beth Gipson Schmidt
Beth Gipson Schmidt

This is offensive to everyone...the kid, the kid's family, the community, past and current victims...this is why it's so hard for kids to come forward. Those involved should be ashamed of themselves.

Brian Cunningham
Brian Cunningham

If the priest molested a child then he should pay for his crime just like anyone else has to. He should not be given any special treatment because of what he is. All child molester should burn for what they do to children. An eye for an eye.

Sara Ivie-Trankler
Sara Ivie-Trankler

Usually it is made up when in custody situations, and the child is coached, brainwashed.

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

I am heartbroken for this family. I cannot imagine placing my child in the care of a trusted priest or pastor only to be betrayed when he violated my daughter. Then, for people to come out in support of this priest? Just devastating. I urge you all to please support this family through prayer and kind words. The last thing the family of this young victim needs is people speaking against them. Please consider if you were in their shoes! And as a commenter said below -if this were your school and a teacher! Or at your own church! How devastating to deal with the pain of the abuse as well as being attacked as a victim through people claiming your abuser is innocent. This family will endure so much going forward as this young girl will have a long journey toward healing. I urge all of you who call yourselves Christians to think before you speak when you comment on this situation. If your comments are in support of the accuser and not the victim you are attempting to discredit a child who has been hurt. I applaud this girl and her loved ones for coming forward in the midst of pain and against those trying to tear them down. May you be strong and courageous as you help your child through unspeakable heartache. My prayers are with you.

BillHannegan
BillHannegan

Balanced Catholic, I know of no one who actually knows Fr. Joseph who doubts his complete innocence.

Bill Hannegan

BalancedCatholic
BalancedCatholic

The young adults group at the Cathedral Basilica setup a Meetup (dot com) website a couple of years in order to track RSVPs and to make use of the Meetup service's built-in email mailing list and Facebook integration features. I know that because I was an active member of the group at that time, and was aware of the efforts of the members responsible for that Meetup site's creation.

This was all done on their own initiative, and *no* official of the Archdiocese nor staff member of the Cathedral Basilica had *any* administrative access to the site whatsoever at any time, nor did they maintain or exert editorial control over it at any point in the last couple of years. The service was even paid for by the group's members.

Now, this all made for a practical arrangement that was not the result of careful planning, but just came to be out of a desire of the Cathedral's young adults to leverage a modern means of communication so as to better organize themselves and maintain an attractive social media presence. And it worked out pretty well for nearly 2 years.

However, a lack of discretion (more on that below) on the part of one of the Cathedral young adults Meetup site's "organizers" (Meetup's terminology) led to this incident and revealed a pitfall of not having a Church employee act as managing editor for all the social media tools in use by ministries and apostolates *directly* tied to (and in effect representing) an Archdiocesan institution, in this case the Cathedral Basilica on Lindell Blvd. That situation has been immediately remedied and management of the young adults social media presence will no longer be ad hoc.

Regarding the lack of discretion mentioned above:

Please consider that many of the young adults at the Cathedral Basilica were friends of Fr. Joseph Jiang -- they respected him and were grateful to God for his priestly ministry to them. As his case, the accusations, et al. have unfolded over the past year, many have formed opinions one way or another as to his guilt or innocence, as it is human nature to do. Those of us who care for Fr. Jiang pray not only for him, but also for his accusers, the prosecutor and defense attorney, the judge and those as yet unknown persons who in a few months will sit on the jury that will decide his fate.

What do we pray for? For justice, truth, divine grace, mercy, understanding, prudence, and all those spiritual goods that all involved need in order that the case and trial may conclude in a way that is most pleasing to God, who is Himself Truth, Justice and Mercy.

It seems that one of our "organizers" (again, Meetup's term) of the now defunct Cathedral young adults' Meetup site chose to bill the prayer service as "for the exoneration of Fr. Joseph."

Was that choice of words prudent or appropriate? No, it was not. As suggested above, that time of prayer was truly intended as a spiritual salve for *all* involved (as previous prayer services have been), not just Fr. Jiang. And we don't yet know whether he is guilty or innocent, so it wasn't appropriate for the organizer to express her/his opinion in that way, despite having strong feelings in that regard. Was the action malicious? No, of course not. It was borne out of personal friendship, respect and great concern for a priest of our Church.  The person who made the mistake certainly feels terrible about any hurt, misunderstanding, confusion and anger caused by it, and it was a "life lesson" learned, to be sure.

I hope this reflection clears up any wild speculation about this incident. For those who have engaged in wild speculation or venomous criticism, on this website or in other venues: peace of Christ be with you, and I would encourage you to engage the brain God gave you, and to think critically before wildly tapping your fingers or flapping your lips.

I speak only for myself and from my knowledge of the Cathedral young adults' group's history and the known facts of this website incident. In no way do I officially represent the Archdiocese, nor the Cathedral Basilica, nor the Cathedral's young adults group.

Pax.

Lisa Corley Davis
Lisa Corley Davis

Sure, everyone has a right to defend themselves... but if you're going to take a side before the evidence is all in, why the hell would you choose to side with the one accused of child molestation? If you're not going to stay impartial... probably best to support the child. In a "he said/she said" argument it may behoove us to consider which person would have more reason to lie, no? Generally children don't just decide to lie that people molested them... generally molesters lie about being molesters. If you're so blindly supporting the Catholic Church that you're willing to support a priest accused of molesting a kid you are everything that is wrong with that "religion".

Neil Aimaro
Neil Aimaro

Yea but usually the average citizen does not have empire worth billions ready to defend them at all costs.

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

their molester headquarters is off elm at the stl archdiocese...Thats where they keep all of the one convicted throughout the whole us..

Couch Pig
Couch Pig

Brainwashed throughout their evolution>>

Sara Ivie-Trankler
Sara Ivie-Trankler

Be glad it's not my.kid. I wouldn't take the case to trial. I'd make site it didn't again.

Patrik Coyne
Patrik Coyne

Well that's why you don't hold a position of power, of any kind, in any office.

Sara Ivie-Trankler
Sara Ivie-Trankler

I do not presume innocent until proven guilty in child molestation cases. You need to prove to me you are innocent. The victim already has been through enough. Priests are notorious for raping babies.

advocate
advocate

Luke 8:17 - For nothing is hidden that will not become evident; nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.

Kathy Czopek
Kathy Czopek

please use the words "alleged victim" - unless one-sided and inflammatory is really the image you're going for.

Kenneth Snyder
Kenneth Snyder

Everyone has the right to a defense and the presumption of innocence until conviction. If these parishioners believe in his innocence, by all means they should defend him. The criminal justice system has to work the same way for everyone otherwise it has no meaning.

advocate
advocate

I want to address a couple of things.

Holy catholic people can break the commandments too.  We need to be praying for the victim here.  Her life is forever changed, as well as, that of her family. 

People need to educate themselves on what a predator looks like.  Most predator/pedofiles don't walk around with shirts saying "I'm a molester".  They are charming & confident and want to win people over as to keep their secret hidden.  Proof that Father Jiang wanted to keep it hidden is the check for $20,000.

Pray for this family and all the victims of abuse!

Ron Clements
Ron Clements

Accused, not convicted. He might be innocent.

Steve Dixon
Steve Dixon

Not at all. He's innocent until proven guilty. I mean, this is still the US, right? I do think there is a child molestation problem in the Catholic Church, but that does not automatically mean every accusation brought against a priest is automatically true. I know faith in our justice system is likely at an all time low, but its still the only one we have and we have to let it runs its course.

Ray Thomas
Ray Thomas

child molesting priests should be held criminally accountable for their crimes,,,not slapped on the hand and sent elsewhere to molest more kids

hanneganlounge
hanneganlounge

The charges against Fr. Joseph are complete nonsense. There are no victims in this instance. What is happening to Fr. Joseph right now reminds me a lot of what happened to innocent Fr. Robert Osborne a while back.

Bill Hannegan

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

Shame on this group! Shame on them for supporting the offender publicly and privately which is the same as calling the victim a liar! What kind of "Christian" calls a child victim of abuse a LIAR? This is disgusting! Even if a person feels their "friend" is innocent they should not make a public spectacle that makes it difficult for other victims to come forward. I cannot believe the AB and the church allowed this meeting to be scheduled in the first place on their property and I fully expect them to speak on this issue and this awful group and their choice to hold a private meeting! The facts are pretty well laid out in all the documents the RFT has posted and I'm not sure how anyone could presume this so-called priest's innocence after reading everything that took place but if someone feels compelled to support an abuser they should not do so publicly. Think about the other potential victims of this priest or the victims of any sex abuse out there! If they believe they will be publicly called a liar and support given to their abuser they are NOT likely to want to come forward. Absolutely shameful. 

Kay4Justice
Kay4Justice

What will the AB do?  Nothing.  He'll state that commenting would be "inappropriate."  Protect the kids?  Absolutely NOT!  Shame on all involved in this ridiculous situation. 

snapdorris
snapdorris

Archbishop Carlson has a chance to become a leader in the fight against child sex crimes. He can educate his flock about the proper way to act when a priest has been accused of child sex crimes or he can sit behind his desk and do nothing until forced by public opinion or civil authorities. We hope the Archbishop will personally plead with his victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to come forward and work with law enforcement. We hope he will encourage everyone to pray for all the parties involved and to show their support of Fr. Jiang in private so any victim of child sex crimes will find it easier to come forward.

Barbara Dorris

SNAP Outreach Director

314-862-7688

SNAPdorris@gmail.com

jacquebquique
jacquebquique

@Chris McDaniel Teen age girls are notorious for making things up. It is his word against hers. However on the other side of the coin, what are the parents saying and why would they allow a 15-16 year girl be alone in their home with a mid 20s male?  Could they have been "cooking the soup"?  If the parents cannot be specific with charges that they witnessed, then they were complicit in orchestrating a plot against the priest.

rachaduncan
rachaduncan

@BalancedCatholic God is mercy? The all powerful being that could save those from their abusers is mercy? Funny the way you see good where I only see evil.

jacquebquique
jacquebquique

@Lisa Corley Davis In today's society with its saturation of "sex and violence", there is no such thing as a 16 year old female child. 

BillHannegan
BillHannegan

@Lisa Corley Davis, a lot of money could come as the result of a civil suit.

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

@Kathy Czopek "Alleged victim" implies that the child is a liar. I will do no such thing. The victim, the CHILD, deserves better than to be doubted when she is already dealing with such pain. 

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

@Kenneth Snyder The abuser has the right to "innocence until proven guilty" in a COURT OF LAW. But to make a spectacle supporting the abuser is harmful to the victim and other victims who may be hesitant to ever come forward if they know that the abuser will receive such support. Why would a group of CHRISTIANS hold prayer service hoping that an accused man is cleared when a child has made such accusations? There are too many facts surrounding this case such as the check and the texts to just hope this goes a way when a child's life has been impacted. This man will get his day in court, that's the American way. But, to rally support hoping he is cleared is essentially advocating for abusers and against the victims. 

BalancedCatholic
BalancedCatholic

@snapdorris we supporters of Fr. Joseph Jiang *do* pray for all involved in this case, for their spiritual and physical well-being.

Last night, there was indeed a prayer service organized privately at a private residence, purely at the discretion and invitation of the residence's owner.

Whether the Cathedral Basilica or the Archdiocese knew about it is immaterial, since private initiatives, spiritual or otherwise, of members of the Catholic Church are not generally subject to monitoring, governance and approval by the local arch/bishop, or his priests, or other employees of the Church. If that is surprising to you, you may have some misguided notions about how life is lived as a Catholic Christian.

Who and what was prayed for? All involved with the case were prayed for, and prayers were offered in supplication for truth, justice and mercy from Almighty God through the heavenly intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, by way of group recitation of the Holy Rosary.

This is one of the things Catholic Christians do: we pray for our families, friends, neighbors and enemies, in accord with the double precept of charity spoken to us by the Man-God Himself: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul and thy whole mind. This is the greatest of the commandments, and the first. And the second, its like, is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments, all the law and the prophets depend." (Matt 22:37-40)

Pax.

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

@jacquebquique I am appalled... simply appalled that you would actually accuse the CHILD of making this up OR the parents for orchestrating a plot. It's not just "his word against hers" it is a matter of evidence that has been submitted to the court.... messages, voicemail, an email account, a check and even a witness. Let me also say, you can't have this both ways. If you want to question why the parents left their child alone with a male in his 20's, inherently you're say he should not be trusted with a teenage girl. A holy man of God should not be considered a threat to a 16 year old girl... this family obviously trusted him and prior to this incident had no reason to think he would harm their daughter. Sadly that's because he manipulated the entire family - especially the victim. That's what abusers do.... they specialize in manipulation and to think you would place blame on the child or the parents is shameful and disgusting. 

snapjudy
snapjudy topcommenter

@BalancedCatholic@snapdorrisSo who do you consider your "enemies'..? 

I sure hope you are not talking about the victim and her family... that would really be sad..!

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

@jacquebquique  So if a trusted family friend or family member sexually abused your child while you were cooking dinner - by your reasoning this would be your own fault? Ridiculous. And what is your point here? That he did this or not? That a child successfully seduced a priest? So he is guilty but it's the parent's fault? Or the girl's fault? Or he misread the attention? You are delusional and you're sending mixed messages... I assume you blame the child for this priest directing her to set up a secret email account, too. You have no grounds to blame this child. There was an adult man, a "holy" man, held to a higher standard of morals and values.... and there was a teenage girl- a CHILD. He took advantage of her and this family. He is to blame. NOT the child. This girl did not seduce him. What a terrible thing to say. These parents are devastated by this situation. This girl will never be the same... all at the hands of someone they trusted who betrayed them in the most awful of ways. Yes - there is evil in the world. You did get that right... and this family has been hurt by that evil. Stop blaming the victim. 

jacquebquique
jacquebquique

@averyconcernedmom @jacquebquique "Methinks thou doth protest too much". Seduction, that is what teenage girls are honing their craft at. She wanted attention from the guy.  He misread it. This girl knew what she was doing and now hides behind the law. "Holy men of God" are human.  John the Baptist was "waylaid" by Salome. The good young father is now trying to drag down the entire archdiocese with him. Get a grip. There is evil in the world. Again, where were mom and dad? I'm saying that they were in the kitchen "counting their chickens" when the daughter crushed the golden egg. 

averyconcernedmom
averyconcernedmom

@BillHannegan Really Bill? Shame on you for having no compassion for this child who is the real victim. This girl deserves our support for being brave enough to come forward especially when people like you are so quick to rally behind her abuser. You may know Jiang, but as someone else stated - molesters do not advertise their actions. It's unlikely he would have confided in you that he had abused this child. 

BalancedCatholic
BalancedCatholic

@snapjudy For example, I prayed for you about 30 minutes ago, asking the Blessed Virgin to obtain for you, Judy, the grace to grow in your knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, His Church, His priesthood and priests and the Blessed Eucharist; that you might cultivate and grow in every virtue, and that you might edify your neighbors with your every printed and spoken word.

Pax.

BalancedCatholic
BalancedCatholic

@snapjudy Judy, no. I was simply making an allusion to Our Savior's words in the Gospel: "But I tell you, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who persecute and insult you, that so you may be true sons of your Father in heaven, who makes his sun rise on the evil and equally on the good, his rain fall on the just and equally on the unjust. If you love those who love you, what title have you to a reward? Will not the publicans do as much?" (Matt 5:44-46)

Thus, the double precept of charity extends not only to those we love or like, or who are like-minded and sympathetic to our concerns, but even to those who persecute and insult us.

Within that spectrum certainly falls those who have made accusations against someone we care for, respect or love, whether those accusations are true or false, or their truthfulness has not yet been determined.

So, we, the friends and supporters of Fr. Joseph will continue to support him, without intending to denigrate his accusers. And we will continue to pray for the spiritual physical well-being of his accusers and all those involved in this case.

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