|Diocese Facing Allegations of Abuse
Mendota Teacher/victim Says Peoria Catholics Reneging on Settlement
By Terry Bibo
May 7, 2009
PEORIA — Mitchell Landgraf thinks Bishop Daniel Jenky paid 10 times more than necessary to settle at least one case involving a survivor of sexual abuse in the church.
He should know. It was his case.
"I never used a lawyer," the one-time seminarian said at a news conference Thursday near the new Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria chancery offices. "I never sued. I never got a penny in damages."
On Feb. 24, one day before the state statute of limitations on breaches of contract would have resulted in a lawsuit, the diocese settled with Landgraf for $10,000. Five years earlier, Landgraf had asked for $780 for his counseling costs. Diocesan officials had agreed to pay for his counselor, since Landgraf was sexually abused during a retreat in the diocese during the early 1980s. When the officials changed, the payments stopped.
"Not everybody makes it out of the pain of sexual abuse in the church. I almost didn't, either," said Landgraf, who said he once attempted suicide.
"This is not about what happened 30 years ago by one sick man. It's about everything that is happening right now."
Reneging on the agreement triggered the feelings of abuse all over again, which required more counseling, he said. The five-year battle to make the diocese keep its agreement was "disheartening," he said, despite support from family and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Landgraf said he knows it doesn't have to be this way. The priest involved in his abuse was from the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
According to Landgraf that diocese treated him with compassion. That is one reason he offered to use some of the settlement from Dallas to pay for additional support during retreats here.
He said he refused to blame Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, who agreed to pay for his counseling while he was still chancellor here, calling him "a holy and good man who treated me with honesty and compassion."
But he said the current chancellor, Patricia Gibson, "respects no one."
After he spent five years seeking every possible avenue to redress the problem, he decided to speak out because others need this counseling and their bills are not being paid.
"I'm out to protect current survivors who want and need this counseling," he said, calling for Jenky's removal if he did not change.
Gibson issued a statement to say the bishop was "disappointed" in some "groundless and outrageous statements" made during the news conference. He believes the diocese has treated Landgraf with the "utmost respect and sensitivity." Despite a settlement from the Diocese of Dallas, the Diocese of Peoria has paid significant counseling bills for Landgraf.
"Bishop Jenky believes that counseling - rather than the payment of large monetary settlements - is the only way that true healing can occur for credible victims of sexual abuse," the statement says. "Not every allegation of abuse has been found to be credible by the Diocesan Review Commission, and so the diocese has denied counseling in those claims that simply cannot be sustained by the facts."
Although the statement did not challenge Landgraf's own abuse story, it said that he simply won't accept that some other allegations are not credible. And, over the last six months, the diocese has paid bills for what it calls credible allegations.
Now married and a father of three children, Landgraf is a high school counselor in Mendota. With his wife at his side to describe the effects on their family, this is the first time he has spoken out about this situation in public.
Terry Bibo can be reached at 686-3189 or email@example.com
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