Diocese: Media Reports Mislead

By Lynda Zimmer
The News-Gazette [Peoria ILL]
January 10, 2004

PEORIA - The Peoria Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and several area priests took issue this week with news reports on an audit of plans for preventing the sexual abuse of minors.

"In several areas of the 26-county Diocese of Peoria, there has been confusion in the media pertaining to the Diocese of Peoria's compliance with the 'Charter for the Protection of Children & Young People,'" said a news release sent from diocesan headquarters in Peoria and issued by spokeswoman Kate Kenny.

The progress audit was released earlier this week and contained a recommendation for establishment of a program to detect and prevent child abuse in the Peoria Diocese, which encompasses central Illinois. News reports stated that the diocese had failed to carry out the recommendation.

"As stated in the audit report, the Diocese of Peoria is in FULL (emphasis in release) compliance with the charter. The auditors made one recommendation that the Diocese implement safe environment programs for parents and children." The release stated that the recommendation would be carried out this spring.

The planned program for parents will not be ready until April or May. It is under production by VIRTUS, a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, set up by the Catholic Risk Retention Group.

"It should also be noted that other dioceses in the country are also awaiting the release of the VIRTUS 'parent' program," the release stated.

Last fall, all clergy, staff and volunteers who work with children in the Peoria Diocese were required to take a three-hour course called "Protecting God's Children" produced by VIRTUS. Hundreds of parents who work with church youth were included in those classes. The new program about safe environments for children and early detection of abuse will be offered to all Catholic parents.

A team of child protective experts and lay people representing the United States Council of Catholic Bishops last August audited dioceses' compliance with the bishops' 2002 charter directives to protect youth from sexual abuse.

Nationally, only 20 dioceses were listed as out of compliance with the charter. The reason for noncompliance was largely lack of money.

The charter stemmed from revelations in 2001 and 2002 that some priests in the United States had been accused of sexually molesting several youth, yet were transferred among parishes and allowed to keep working.

In East Central Illinois, area priests expressed confidence that their superior, Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Peoria Diocese, would fully carry out the charter guidelines.

"I think the diocese has done very well at responding (to the abuse crisis)," said Monsignor Doug Hennessy, pastor of St. Paul Church, Danville.

He called news accounts early in the week, that the diocese might have fallen short in program implementation, "puzzling" and "very misleading."

"It is my understanding that the parent program is just being developed nationally and several dioceses are waiting for it," he said.

The Rev. Jeffrey Laible, pastor of St. Malachy's Church, Rantoul, said, "I'm sure, just as he (Jenky) implemented the rest of the program, that he will take it to the next level."

The Rev. Gregory Nelson, pastor of St. Philomena, Monticello, said he did not know details of the audit and referred a reporter to Monsignor Albert Hallin, pastor of Holy Cross Church, Champaign, and vicar of 15 congregations in the Champaign Vicariate. Hallin was out of town and unavailable for comment.

Representatives of those who have been abused by priests have noted that the audits measure only whether dioceses have written policies in place to prevent abuse and not whether they were following them. Some survivors also have questioned the implementation of the charter, saying the church is attempting to police itself.

You can reach Lynda Zimmer at (217) 351-5224 or via e-mail at


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