|Joliet Diocese Refuses to Turn over Predators" Records
February 4, 2011
Victims blast Joliet bishop
They accuse him of “secrecy & stonewalling”
In clergy sex case, he refuses to obey court order
Both parties appear before a judge tomorrow (Friday)
Prelate wants to keep hidden church records about predators
Clergy sex abuse victims are blasting Joliet Catholic officials for defying a court order to turn over secret church records about a predator priest.
Both parties in the controversy will appear tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 4) before Judge Michael Powers in Joliet.
Late last week, lawyers for the Joliet Catholic diocese indicated in a new 13 page legal motion that they are refusing to honor a court order to produce pages and pages of long-secret church records about a credibly accused child molesting cleric, Fr. James Burnett. In a civil lawsuit, Burnett is accused of abusing an eight year old child from 1978-82, starting during the boy’s first confession at St. Mary's Parish in Mokena.
Leaders of a self help group called SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPnetwork.org) are criticizing the maneuver.
“It’s just one more hard-ball stalling tactic that will only delay healing and keep clergy sex abuse cover ups covered up,” said Barbara Blaine of SNAP. “The bishop’s legal motion is designed to make sure that the complicity of church supervisors is kept under wraps as long as possible.”
SNAP maintains the move shows that Catholic bishops still “fight tooth and nail” to keep clergy sex crimes concealed despite repeated pledges of “transparency,.”
SNAP wants Siegel to obey the judge, release the records, and let the lawsuit proceed without “unnecessary delays.”
The case involves Fr. James Burnett, who is accused of abusing a then eight year old child from 1978-82, starting during the boy’s first confession at St. Mary's Parish in Mokena.
SNAP is also begging anyone else who saw, suspected or suffered the child molesting cleric’s crimes to speak up, get help, expose wrongdoing, protect kids and start healing.
“Staying silent helps no one,” said David Clohessy of SNAP. “By speaking up, victims, witnesses and whistleblowers can protect others, expose crimes, deter wrongdoing, and start healing.”
In 2006, Burnett was put on leave and a civil lawsuit was filed. The victim, Will County resident David Rudofski, 32, is represented by a Chicago-based lawyer, Terry Johnson (email@example.com, 312.922.4022).
The suit is based, in part, on the notion of “fraudulent concealment” because church officials have kept clergy sex crimes hidden from the public and parishioners for decades.
A second similar suit by a different victim was filed in 2007. But in March 2007, diocesan officials said that it found Rudofski’s allegations "not credible" but were unable to resolve the credibility of the second allegation.
Some of the files church officials refuse to turn over relate to Bishop Daniel Ryan, who stepped down from his post as head of the Springfield Illinois diocese in 1999 due to allegations that he had solicited sex from a teenaged boy in 1984. In 2006, an investigative report found that Ryan "engaged in improper sexual conduct and used his office to conceal his activities" and fostered "a culture of secrecy...that discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct" by other clergy in the diocese.”
Because of a ruling by Judge Powers, the diocese has already released some documents about Burnett to the victim’s attorney.
“We are grateful this judge is wisely siding with the accuser over the accused and with openness rather than secrecy,” Blaine said. “For far too long, some judicial authorities have valued the privacy of criminals above the safety of kids. We’re glad Judge Powers is not one of them.”
The lawyer for the Diocese of Joliet is Jim Byrne (815-726-4311).
The diocese has already released certain documents about Fr. Burnett
A copy of SNAP’s letter, sent today by fax and e mail, is below:
Dear Bishop Siegel:
We understand that you are just the temporary head of the Joliet Diocese and as such, your actual powers are not limitless. Still, we believe you can and should take steps to speed up, not delay, a pending clergy sex abuse and cover up case against your diocese. And we especially urge you to stop fighting the court-ordered release of documents that will make kids safer by exposing wrongdoers.
Time and time again over the past decade, in public, Catholic officials have repeatedly pledged to be “transparent” in clergy sex cases. But time and time again, in courtrooms, Catholic officials have repeatedly fought against any such transparency.
The sad, simple truth is that Illinois Catholics and citizens deserve to know the identities and actions of clerics who committed and concealed devastating child sex crimes. Parents and the public especially need this information, so that children can be protected and so that future child sex crimes can be prevented.
Such information can both help safeguard the vulnerable and heal the wounded. But there’s an additional benefit that comes from such openness: it can help deter future recklessness, callousness and deceit.
When decision-makers see that others who ignore or hide child sex crimes are eventually punished or exposed, they think twice before engaging in similar behavior. On the other hand, when wrong-doing is overlooked, wrongdoing is essentially endorsed and more apt to be repeated.
Often in these situations, church officials claim that the still-hidden diocesan records contain little that hasn’t already been made public. But even if that’s true, it’s prudent to err on the side of disclosure rather than secrecy. The more people who have information about dangerous and potentially dangerous child molesters, the better off kids will be. And the more people who know about abusers’ complicit colleagues and supervisors, the better off kids will be.
If even one name of one wrongdoers – whether perpetrator or enabler – is revealed, those at risk of being hurt will be safer and those who have already been hurt will be validated.
So please consider reversing your course, obeying the court order, releasing the records, and helping to heal, not exacerbate, the already deep and still fresh wounds of suffering clergy sex abuse victims in your diocese.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
PO Box 6416
Chicago IL 60680
312 399 4747
Executive Director, SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal Street
St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
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