An American priest who is the pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral in Belmopan, Father Kevin Hederman, is facing a civil suit in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A., and its Archbishop, over claims he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy in the early 1990’s, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reported yesterday, Wednesday.
The suit, filed in Saint Louis County Circuit Court on Tuesday of this week, alleges that the abuse took place when the plaintiff was a student at Christian Brothers College in Clayton (the school has since moved).
We spoke with Fr. Hederman today, and he confirmed the lawsuit.
The Post-Dispatch reports that according to the plaintiff, who used the name “John Doe 115” in the lawsuit, Fr. Hederman would invite him to his residence at North American Martyrs Church in Florissant, Missouri, supposedly to “minister to the teenager’s spiritual, psychological and emotional needs,” but on at least one occasion, he alleges, the priest engaged in “inappropriate and unwanted sexual contact” with him.
The suit is for an unstated amount of damages; the reporter who wrote the story told us by email communication this afternoon that he was not aware of why it took so long to bring the suit, or if there were other similar allegations against the accused priest.
Amandala reached Fr. Hederman at his office in Belmopan this afternoon. Because the matter is under litigation, he could offer only limited comment. But the priest of 35 years, 14 in Belize, told us he would fight the suit “with every ounce of blood I’ve got.”
According to Fr. Hederman, he found out about the suit yesterday, and at first he “had no recollection” of the individual on whose behalf it was filed.
He told us,however, that there is “no truth to the allegations,” and says he will fly up to the United States to meet with his attorney to find out the circumstances of what he faces, after which time, he told us, he would be free to talk to the local press, and even promised Amandala “first crack.”
“John Doe 115” has this to say in his statement on why he kept meeting with Fr. Hederman: “…I felt I didn’t have anywhere else to turn to at the time, and I knew he would understand my teenage angst because he was such a nice man, and a priest and a man respected by many, including me.”
Director of Pan Y Amor, Monsignor Francis X. Blood, wrote to sponsors of his program earlier this month that he accompanied Fr. Hederman in a tour of the parish, which covers 16 villages in central Cayo District and Belmopan, and co-celebrated two Masses with him.
Msgr. Blood reported that Fr. Hederman had organized a lunch program for a number of schools under the parish’s care, in which some 300 students per day are fed with the assistance of local volunteers and donations from Pan Y Amor supporters.
Fr. Hederman is said to have joined the Church’s Latin American Apostolate, which includes Belize, in 1998 after previously serving at various Saint Louis-area churches.
The suit has gotten coverage on Saint Louis-area television and radio stations. The Archdiocese of Saint Louis has released a statement, which we reproduce below in its entirety:
“The Archdiocese of St. Louis is aware of a recently filed lawsuit involving Rev. Kevin Hederman. At this time, the Archdiocese has not been able to investigate the allegation and we do not know if the claim is valid. Because we take all allegations of abuse very seriously, Bishop Robert Hermann has decided to temporarily remove Rev. Hederman from active ministry pending further review. If anyone has ever experienced abuse involving a clergy member, please contact the Office of Child and Youth Protection at 314-792-7704 or your local authorities.”
Bishop Robert Hermann is the acting Bishop of the Archdiocese; Fr. Hederman tells us that they were as “blindsided” as he was by the news. Emphasis above is ours.
The Diocese of Belize City-Belmopan (the official name for the Roman Catholic Church in the country of Belize), led by Bishop Dorick Wright, is yet to respond to the charges against Fr. Hederman. Bishop Wright was in a meeting this afternoon, the office secretary reported, and would be unavailable for comment until tomorrow.