A Man's Call for Imesch to Leave Now
By Tim Placher
The Herald News [Joliet IL]
March 5, 2006
'My dear friends, our hearts are heavy again this week," my parish priest said from the pulpit at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet last Sunday.
"A member of our own parish family has come forward to tell us of the hurtful and painful things done to him many years ago by a priest from this parish."
As he spoke, I knew many eyes were on me. There probably wasn't a soul in the congregation who hadn't read or heard about the column I wrote describing the abuse done to me as a child and teenager by a former St. Ray's priest, the late Rev. Richard Ruffalo.
"When we hear such an ugly and troubling story," he said quietly, "how do we respond?
"When we learn another Joliet priest was removed yesterday from ministry in Peoria due to abuse allegations, how do we respond? When we continue to hear so many of these stories, how do we respond?"
The priest seemed to be asking the question rhetorically.
But as I sat there, I began thinking about the feedback I'd gotten from the column. And I felt like standing up and shouting the answer at him.
Our response is this, Father. We people in the pews are fed up.
When I wrote about my history with Father Ruffalo, I was confident readers and the Catholic community would support me. But the response far exceeded anything I could've ever imagined. In the days after the column was published, I received 250 e-mails.
Every single one of them supported my decision to write so frankly about my experience.
The messages came from a wide spectrum of people. Some were from friends and former classmates of mine. Some were from priests and nuns. But the bulk was from people I'd never met — scores of local Catholics who are extremely troubled by the state of their church.
Most writers expressed sorrow about what had happened to me. Many told me they were praying for me and other victims of priest abuse.
But as I read through the flood of messages, I noticed a recurring theme. At least half the writers weren't content to simply relay a few words of support. Instead, they took the opportunity to express their anger, especially with Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch.
Yes, Bishop Imesch, the people in the pews are fed up. And I want to tell you what they are saying.
They are fed up with priests who take advantage of children. They're fed up with being kept in the dark for the last quarter-century about the dirty secret of priest abuse. They're fed up that their bishop hushed up reported abuses and shuttled predator priests to new feeding grounds in other parishes.
They're fed up with promises of reform that don't work and haven't been followed by church officials. They're fed up that their money — and the money donated by their parents and grandparents — is being used to deal with legal problems caused by priest perverts. They're fed up that many victims who come forward to report abuse have their stories attacked and motives questioned by insensitive church authorities.
But most of all, Bishop, the people in the pews are simply fed up with you.
They're fed up that you haven't respected them by admitting your personal responsibility in messing up their church. And they're fed up that you don't respect them enough to resign and let them get on with the task of rebuilding some semblance of trust in the institution they love.
I have to admit, Bishop, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of anger burning in those e-mails. I assumed there would be a percentage of readers who would steadfastly defend you. But if you're thinking you still maintain a healthy core of support among area Catholics, the messages I received tell me you're seriously misreading the room.
Out of that flood of e-mails, exactly one person defended you. Of the many people who talked to me personally or by phone, no one pleaded your case. Callers to the Daily Southtown offices expressed overwhelming support for my column and its call for your resignation.
At this point, finding any base of support for you appears to be akin to looking for the needle in a haystack. And it would seemingly be easier for a camel to pass through that needle's eye than it would be for you to restore confidence in your leadership of the Joliet Church.
The people who contacted me were clear, Bishop. Your reasons, explanations, rationalizations, excuses and backhanded apologies for the way you handled the priest abuse problem don't matter much anymore. Your administration of the local church has become an abysmal failure. And they want you to leave.
As long as you remain in charge, Bishop, they cannot trust that the priest abuse problem is behind them.
Do you think it's a coincidence that each new day seems to bring more disclosures about past abuses? In my e-mail box, there are at least seven sickening stories of priest molestation that have yet to be reported. If these people believed the problem had been cured once and for all, they might be able to find peace with their secrets. Instead, your continuing presence at the helm of the diocese breeds anger that compels them to tell their stories and add their voices to the chorus against you.
Just like I did.
Your retirement date is drawing near, Bishop. And as your tenure draws to a close, I believe we local Catholics need an important gesture from you.
We need you to leave now.
We need to know the slate of your failed stewardship of our church has been wiped clean so we can move into the future with confidence the status quo won't be tolerated anymore. We need to know the days of excuses and embarrassment are over.
It would help us most of all, Bishop, if you would leave in quiet contrition, showing us you acknowledge how severely you have let us down.
Right now, however, plans are already said to be in place for you to retire this summer amid a big celebration of pomp and pageantry. Bishop, we already feel like saps for blindly trusting you to protect our children from harm. We feel like stooges for believing you would always be open and honest with us. If you choose to go out with fanfare and fireworks, you'll be practically rubbing our noses in it.
Do the right thing for us, Bishop. Leave now.
Do it for the people in the pews. For the ladies who cook the spaghetti dinners and the ushers who wear the ill-fitting blazers. For the guys who give up their free time to coach our kids' sports teams. For the women who polish the chalices and launder the altar linens.
Do it for the parishioners who tend the church gardens and mow the rectory's grass. For the singers in the choir and the janitors who sweep our schools. For the teachers, the bingo number-callers and the men who dig our families' graves.
Do it for the good priests who live under the cloud of doubt and suspicion created by your failures.
Do it for the parents whose children weren't protected from harm.
Do it for those parents' children.
We, the people, are the real Church, Bishop. We were here long before you came. And we'll still be here long after you're gone — trying to clean up the mess you left us.
Do the right thing for us, Bishop Imesch. Do it now.
- Tim Placher is a Daily Southtown columnist and music teacher who lives in Joliet. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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