New Priest Abuse Allegations Emerge
Joliet priest removed from parish

By Ben Bradley
WLS-TV/ABC7 (Chicago)
February 7, 2006

There were new allegations of priest abuse Tuesday, one in the Joliet diocese, the other involving the Chicago-based Society of Jesus. All the accusations call into question just how cases involving priests accused of abuse should be handled.

Later this week, Francis Cardinal George will outline new guidelines for dealing with priests accused of abuse. But Tuesday night's story calls into question the lack of response by church leaders, not just in the archdiocese of Chicago and not just in Illinois.

Father William Spine served as pastor of one of Chicago's most historic churches from 1986 until 1991. Holy Family Church was his home. The alleged abuse is said to have taken place long before Reverend Spine came to the Midwest.

The Chicago Province of the Society of Jesus says it finds credible a claim that the priest abused a teenage boy in the mid-70's while he was living in Peru. A spokesman tells ABC7 the allegation was made several months ago, but Father Spine was allowed to remain in public ministry in Kentucky until Tuesday. The reason? Earlier "removal was not outlined in our guidelines," according to the church's head of conduct inquiries.

"A lot of pain I'm feeling right now, a lot of pain every day of my life," said Dan Shananhan, alleged victim.

In another diocese, in another case Tuesday, Dan Shananhan came forward to say that he was abused by his parish priest, Father James Burnett, when he was 8 years old. Shananhan claims the priest abused him 40 times over four years at their church in Mokena, at one point saying "this is a secret between you, me and God."

When Shananhan's sister went to Joliet Bishop Joseph Imisch recently, she was less than impressed with his response.

"His first response was, 'I've known Father Burnett for many years. He was my friend. I doubt it happened,' " said Christine McGovern, sister of alleged victim.

The Chicago archdiocese appears poised to change its policies for dealing with accused priests. The new policy would suspend first... and ask questions later. It's a policy that National Catholic Reporter writer Tim Unsworth says should have been followed in all of these cases.

"He should have acted instantly. He should have removed the man and said, 'Look, we're not sure of this, we don't believe it. You're a good man and priest but we're removing you until this matter is cleared-up,' " said Unsworth.

There are 2.4 million Catholics in the Chicago area. Fewer than a quarter regularly attend mass. Observers say the church is experiencing a credibility crisis.

The archdiocese hopes the plan they unveil later this week will show their desire to protect children is genuine, even if it means an innocent" priest has to be removed from ministry while charges get sorted out.

[ABC7 News Team: Ben Bradley, General Assignment Reporter, ABC 7 News]


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