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Archdiocese of St. Louis abuse victim speaks out after settling with church for $1M

Jonathan Dean, a survivor of sexual abuse by a St. Louis priest as a 10-year-old in Chesterfield, pauses on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, during a press conference about his $1 million settlement with the Archdiocese of St. Louis in Brentwood.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Jonathan Dean, 41, of Chicago, pauses while flanked by his wife, Emily, on Thursday during a press conference in Richmond Heights regarding his $1 million settlement with the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The Chesterfield native said he was abused by the Rev. Gary Paul Wolken when he was a 10-year-old.

Updated at 11:20 a.m. Nov. 10 with comments from the Archdiocese of St. Louis

It was 1993, and Jonathan Dean was 10 years old when his world was no longer fulfilled by the things that make childhood carefree.

He was a fourth grader at the Ascension Catholic Church in Chesterfield when he said he suffered sexual abuse at the hands of now ex-priest Gary Paul Wolken.

Now an attorney based out of Chicago, Dean, 41, decided to speak out and unveil his identity that was concealed in 2018 as “John Doe,” when he first sued Wolten and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

He shared his story for the first time publicly at the University Club Tower in Richmond Heights on Thursday afternoon. His wife, Emily, stood a few feet away in support.

“I was traumatized,” Dean said Thursday. “And from that point forward, the trauma forever changed the course and trajectory of my life.” His child brain immediately repressed the painful memories, so it was years before he understood the deep wounding within him, he said.

He resorted to abusing drugs and alcohol, sex addiction and other behaviors to numb his pain as a teen, he said. Casual drinking turned excessive and life threatening, he added.

Dean also contemplated suicide into adulthood, though he didn’t understand why. His memory returned to him in summer 2013, and he remembered that Wolten raped him four times.

The abuse that began in the early ’90s continued for two years, Dean said.

“Still to this day, having been raped as a child has left a darkness in my soul that I cannot shake and cannot leave behind,” Dean said. He said it’s common for kids who experience such abuse to repress their memories.

Dean said the Missouri courts attempted to have his case tossed out the next day after a settlement with the archdiocese was reached on June 6. He acknowledged the courts weren’t aware of the settlement at the time they tried to toss out his case. The case was officially settled for $1 million on July 26.

“[The court] ordered that my case be dismissed based upon the statute of limitations,” Dean said. “In doing so, the court ignored my testimony, ignored the testimony of a dozen of my family members and friends.”

But still, he criticizes the legal teams that represent accused perpetrators of “playing hardball” and harassing alleged victims who bring forth claims. He said even when victims file a lawsuit within the time window permitted by the law, the legal team aligned with the perpetrators will aggressively misuse the statute of limitations against them.

“They try to trip us up with trick questions about whether we remembered some feeling or memory earlier in time,” Dean said. “If the trick questions don’t work, maybe they just distort or flat out misrepresent some other evidence to get the courts to dismiss the evidence.”

In response to Dean’s comments, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said it takes every accusation of sexual abuse seriously. The church countered Dean in an email statement, and said his choice to go the legal route and file an anonymous lawsuit instead of approaching the Archdiocese directly, constrained the clergy from voluntarily addressing the issue.

The Archdiocese said regardless of any applicable statute of limitations, it collaborates with former FBI and other law enforcement, independent of the Church, to thoroughly investigate claims and respond appropriately.

“It’s important to note whether or not victims of abuse file a lawsuit, they may still seek and receive assistance from the Catholic Church,” the Archdiocese said. “ …The significant passage of time from the alleged acts to the filing of the lawsuit also poses a challenge in uncovering the truth.”

Church leaders said they are praying for for comfort and healing of all victims of sexual abuse.

“Please keep all those who are exploited in your prayers, especially children and vulnerable adults,” the Archdiocese said.

Jonathan Dean, a survivor of sexual abuse by a St. Louis priest as a 10-year-old in Chesterfield, pauses on Thursday, Nov. 9, 2023, during a press conference about his $1 million settlement with the Archdiocese of St. Louis in Brentwood.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Jonathan Dean, a survivor of sexual abuse by a St. Louis priest as a 10-year-old in Chesterfield, pauses on Thursday during a press conference in Richmond Heights.

A history of abuse

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office in 2019 released a 329-page report that covered more than 2,000 priests who have served in the state since 1945. The report found credible allegations of more than 160 instances of sexual abuse by Catholic diocesan priests and deacons against minors, across the four dioceses in Missouri.

The Illinois Attorney General’s office released a similar report in May that examined all six Catholic dioceses in the state — the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, Rockford and Springfield. It found that more than 400 clergy had abused over 2,000 children since the mid-1900s.

These reports came on the heels of a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which found that more than 300 Catholic clerics had sexually abused more than 1,000 children for over 70 years.

Wolken, 58, worked at the Chesterfield parish from 1993-97. He was reassigned to Our Lady of Lourdes in University City in 1997, remaining there until 1999. He was then assigned to Our Lady of Sorrows in south St. Louis until 2002.

That year, Wolken was convicted of abusing another child over a three-year period beginning when the boy was age 5 in about 1997. Wolken was sentenced to 15 years in prison and was released in 2015.

In 2007, he was formally defrocked by the Vatican. He is currently registered as a sex offender.

To seek damages from an injury or illness caused by childhood sexual abuse, the incident must be reported within 10 years of the victim turning 21 years old or within three years of them discovering they were harmed in childhood sexual abuse.

Missouri House Bill 367 aimed to make it easier for childhood sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers in court by extending the statute of limitations from 10 to 20 years. The state House of Representatives passed the bill in May, but progress stalled. The Senate did not call it for a vote in 2023.

Dean credits a former school principal and police detective with providing support, helping him gather the courage to speak out and file a lawsuit against the clergy. He said he received settlement funds from the archdiocese in September.

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.