Abuse Allegations Go Online
Against Priest: Ex-Joliet Student Goes to 'Court of Public Opinion'
By Ted Slowik
The Herald News [Joliet IL]
June 16, 2005
[Survivor's name redacted on 9/7/07 at his request.]
JOLIET — [Redacted] grew up in a devout Roman Catholic household,
where his parents often entertained priests and addressed them on a first-name
So [Redacted]'s parents never questioned why their son spent so much time
with the Rev. Michael Gibbney, a priest at their Bolingbrook parish when
[Redacted] was between the ages of 11 and 13. In 2002, when he finally
told them that the priest had sexually abused him, [Redacted]'s parents
disowned him. Two days later, he suffered a heart attack at age 35.
Now 38, [Redacted] is using the Internet and other media to reveal the
most detailed public account to date alleging how a Joliet Diocese priest
manipulated a young boy into a sexual relationship. He says he's now able
for the first time to candidly discuss his experiences publicly.
"What people fail to understand is that (years after the) sexual
trauma on an 11-year-old and the power, booze and pills, we tend to suddenly
remember things we blocked out. Why? Because I am finally the age of my
perpetrator," [Redacted] said from his home in Austin, Texas.
On the eve of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' meeting in Chicago
this weekend, [Redacted]'s story takes on added significance. The bishops
are expected to make subtle changes to their policies regarding abusive
priests, and critics say the bishops are watering down the safeguards.
Account of abuse
[Redacted] built on his education at Joliet Catholic High School and went
on to earn a master's degree in communications. He runs a computer and
marketing consulting business, but his true love is stand-up comedy, and
he says he has appeared on David Letterman's show.
He describes his experiences with the priest in disturbing, graphic detail
on a Web site, www.jolietcatholicdiocesenews.com . The site contains a
disclaimer warning viewers about its content. The site went live a month
ago and is receiving 1,100 hits a day, he said.
Others who were abused by priests have used the Internet to tell their
stories, said David Clohessy, executive director of the group Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests.
"As time goes by, because of our archaic laws that favor child molesters,
more survivors are having to be resourceful and creative about getting
justice and the truth exposed," Clohessy said.
Diocese spokesman John Cullen said on Wednesday that he had not yet talked
to Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch about his reaction to the Web site.
"Any individual is free to disclose their issues any way they want
to," Cullen said. "If that's how he chooses to discuss what
he believes happened to him, he's free to do that."
[Redacted] recounts his relationship with Gibbney, who was ordained in
1975 and served at all three parishes in his hometown of Elmhurst before
being transferred in 1978 to St. Dominic Church in Bolingbrook. [Redacted]
remembers going to Elmhurst to help the priest move photography equipment
Later, Gibbney moved to a new Bolingbrook parish — St. Francis of
Assisi — and that is where [Redacted] says the abuse occurred.
Gibbney's career as a priest is marked by an unusually high number of
[Redacted] believes Imesch removed Gibbney from the Elmhurst parishes
because of reports of misconduct with youths, a claim also stated in a
lawsuit against Gibbney and the diocese.
[Redacted] said he escaped his father's physical and mental abuse at home
by working at the rectory, where Gibbney befriended him. The priest isolated
the boy, gave him alcohol and pills, and that led to sex, he said. The
sex happened in the priest's car, at the rectory and on out-of-state trips,
The boy eventually was able to break off the relationship when he started
high school at Joliet Catholic, he said.
Response to allegations
[Redacted] said he first contacted the Joliet Diocese about the abuse
in 1993. He received a letter from Auxiliary Bishop Roger Kaffer saying
the priest had been confronted, was sorry for what he had done, and that
the cleric was receiving counseling and no longer serving in active ministry.
Records indicate that Gibbney last served at a parish in Morris in 1991,
and he left the priesthood in 1991, Cullen said.
[Redacted] sent the bishop a 15-page account of his experience, asking
that it be kept confidential. He attended a few group counseling sessions,
which the diocese offered to pay for. But [Redacted] didn't find the sessions
helpful and spent the next decade blocking out memories of the incidents.
At times, he considered suicide.
"I've had to pull a .38 out of my mouth, twice," he said. "When
you've given up hope, all you have is freedom."
His despair had eased by 2002, when the Catholic Church's abuse scandal
erupted worldwide. [Redacted] received another letter from Kaffer explaining
that prosecutors had subpoenaed all of the diocese's records about abusive
priests, including [Redacted]'s confidential account.
"That had a tremendous amount" to do with his decision to seek
intensive counseling and eventually go public. He's since accumulated
more than $200,000 in counseling bills, he said.
Later in 2002, [Redacted] said, he learned that others had been abused
by the same priest, and that one had filed a lawsuit. He contacted a lawyer,
but was told that the Joliet Diocese was successfully getting civil cases
tossed out of court despite a change in state law that extended the statute
of limitations for child-abuse cases.
"I simply want a jury to try the case in court," [Redacted]
writes on his Web site. "The final pieces of evidence are now in
hand, so we will go to the court of public opinion. No judge wants to
hear the case. So I bring it to you."
Two civil lawsuits dismissed by Will County judges have been appealed,
and oral arguments before the appellate court in Ottawa may happen as
early as July, said Ketih Aeschliman, a Shorewood attorney.
One plaintiff is James Fonck, who says Gibbney molested him at Mary Queen
of Heaven parish in Elmhurst in 1978-79, before Imesch transferred the
priest to Bolingbrook, according to Fonck's suit. The other is Brian Softcheck's
suit against the Rev. Lawrence Mullins.
Attempts to contact Gibbney at his last known address in Alsip were unsuccessful.
[Redacted] says that within the past week, he's received letters from
the diocese offering to pay for his counseling. He says he doesn't want
any money for himself, but that he wants the diocese to make a substantial
donation to the clinic that is treating him.
Also, he wants Imesch to write a letter to his parents, who reacted angrily
and haven't spoken to their son since he told them of his childhood experiences
in 2002. When [Redacted]'s parents entertained Imesch at their home, they
called him "Joe," [Redacted] said.
"I want (Imesch) to say, in his own hand, that their job as parents
is not done. That an atrocity happened to their son. That they should
be proud of their son for putting himself back together."