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  Priest Case Puts Heat on Church

By Andrew Fegelman and Michael Hirsley
Chicago Tribune
October 18, 1991

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, already stung by complaints that it ignored sexual misconduct by priests, is under fire again after disclosures that a priest previously accused of sexual misconduct was relocated to a church in Berwyn and made sexual advances to teenagers there.

The decision by the archdiocese to assign Rev. Robert Mayer to St. Odilo Church, without telling anyone of his previous history, has angered parisioners and parents of students at the church's school. On Thursday, they accused church officials of bad judgment and being less than candid.

Mayer left St. Odilo in early July, a departure explained at the time as being "for personal reasons."

But most parishioners didn't learn of the circumstances until a meeting Wednesday night at the church, and others were learning the news for the first time when their children returned home from school Thursday.

"They were just trying to sweep everything under the rug," Donna Mantucca, whose son attends St. Odilo School, said Thursday. "The Catholic religion is supposed to be about truth, and they have kept the truth from their parishioners."

The controversy in Berwyn comes one week after the archdiocese attempted to minimize the problem of sexual misconduct among priests at a press briefing called to explain its policies. The briefing came after news reports of alleged sexual misconduct by a handful of priests.

Although reports of misconduct have been flowing around the west suburban church for several months, no steps were taken against Mayer until the mother of a young man contacted the archdiocese about accusations from her son that the pastor had made sexual advances toward him.

"There was a suggestion of sexually inappropriate behavior," said Sister Joy Clough, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "But there was no sexual activity involved, nor was there a minor involved."

Officials at St. Odilo's declined to discuss Mayer and referred all questions to the archdiocese.

A parish official familiar with the situation, who requested anonymity, said there has so far been no evidence of any child being molested. Instead, the source said Mayer has been accused of engaging in "inappropriate behavior," including inviting boys for dinners on several occasions and ordering them to take their shirts off.

The source said the pastor often took boys from the church to his vacation home, an apparent violation of an agreement Mayer had with the archdiocese, which prohibited him from being alone with anyone under the age of 21.

Clough said Thursday Mayer was removed from his position as pastor of St. Odilo for violating certain restrictions on his behavior, including the fact that "he was not to be in the presence of people under the age of 21 without other adults being present."

Mayer now is in a residential treatment facility outside Chicago, Clough said.

Mayer came to St. Odilo about 10 months ago after overseeing the shuttering of St. Dionysius in Cicero, one of 40 churches and schools closed last year.

He also has been a priest at St. Edna's Church in Arlington Heights and St. Mary's Church in Lake Forest.

But in 1982, while associate pastor at St. Edna, Mayer was accused in a lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court of taking several altar boys on an outing in Fox Lake where he exposed himself to them. The lawsuit also charged that the priest gave the youths liquor and tried to pull the swimsuits off two boys.

Mayer ultimately left the parish, and the lawsuit was settled. No criminal charges were ever filed.

The circumstances surrounding the departure of Mayer have startled members of the Berwyn parish, where he quickly had become popular with members of the congregation as well as students.

But it has also raised questions about the archdiocese's handling of priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Church officials said the policy of Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert, until recently vicar of priests, had been to inform a church's pastor of the background of any priest accused of sexual misconduct before the priest was assigned to the church.

In addition, the vicar of priests, the vicar and the dean of the area where the parish lies are also told about the background of the priest, church officials said.

That system, however, proved ineffective at St. Odilo because Mayer was named to the top position at St. Odilo. Some parishioners have also complained that apparently no one at the church was informed of the agreement that prohibited Mayer from being with children without supervision and that there was no way to enforce the restriction.

 
 

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