|Sexual Abuse: Mendota Man Says Diocese Gave Him Runaround
By Dan Churney
May 8, 2009
On a Peoria sidewalk Thursday, La Salle County resident Mitchell J. Landgraf tried to draw attention to what he said were "five years of hell" at the hands of those who usually work with heaven in mind — the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.
The 39-year-old Landgraf, of Mendota and originally from Peru, said Ken Roberts, then a priest from the Dallas diocese, abused him in a confessional at an annual retreat in the early 1980s at Saint Bede Academy, just west of Peru. Landgraf said The Peoria diocese invited Roberts to be the "retreat master."
After accusations from others surfaced, Roberts was suspended from the priesthood in 1998. Roberts, now in his 70s and living near Cincinnati, wrote an autobiography, "Playboy to Priest," published in 1975.
Almost 20 years later, Landgraf, a former altar boy and seminarian, went to the Dallas diocese — without filing a lawsuit — about his claim of abuse, for which that diocese paid him money. He did not want to say how much money he received, but did say the Dallas diocese was very cooperative and compassionate.
Landgraf then went to the Peoria diocese, asking only that the diocese pay his psychological counseling bills. The diocese, under Chancellor Steven Rohlfs, agreed in 2004, paying $5,500. Later, Landgraf submitted a final bill for $780, but he said by then the diocese had a new chancellor, Patricia M. Gibson, who refused to pay. Bishop Daniel Jenky also refused to help, which Landgraf said led him to incur another $10,000 in counseling and other incidental bills — bills that would never have been incurred if the diocese had paid the $780.
After a five-year struggle, the diocese mailed the $10,000 check Feb. 24 — on the last day before the legal timeline to pay expired.
However, Landgraf, a married father of three, said he was on the sidewalk across from the Peoria diocese's office Thursday to prevent other abuse victims from suffering the way he did.
"They put me through five years of hell, five years of runaround," Landgraf said. "What a waste of the diocese's money. It was insanity, just to make the bishop keep his word."
Landgraf said he would sue Gibson if the statute of limitations had not expired. He added he and his wife are no longer Catholics, because of his experiences during the five years.
After he received money from the Dallas diocese, Landgraf said he offered to pay a portion of the Dallas money to the Peoria diocese, to pay for more chaperones at the yearly retreat and to speak beforehand to priests and seminarians running the retreat, but the Peoria diocese declined all offers, telling Landgraf it would be "traumatizing for the priests to hear" his comments and they had enough chaperones, according to Landgraf.
Prior to Thursday, Landgraf, who is a counselor at Mendota High School, had never publicly talked about having been abused.
Chancellor Gibson released a written statement Thursday.
"Bishop Jenky was disappointed to hear of the groundless and outrageous statements delivered at today's press conference by Mitch Landgraf. Bishop Jenky believes that the diocese, including Chancellor Patricia Gibson, has treated Landgraf with the utmost respect and sensitivity in its communications with him over the past year."
The statement went on to note Landgraf received money from the Dallas diocese and the Peoria diocese had paid "significant" counseling bills for him.
"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," Gibson further wrote. "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.
"Landgraf simply will not accept the reality that some allegations are not credible. However, over the last six months, the Diocese has regularly paid counseling bills for credible allegations of abuse."
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