Records Detail Priest Sex Abuse in Joliet Diocese
By Bob Okon
March 12, 2013
|Diocese of Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media, file |
Documents released by court order will show that Joliet Diocese bishops knew of priests sexually abusing minors as far back as 1958, a victim’s attorney said Tuesday.
Chicago attorney Terrence M. Johnson said the diocese has released thousands of pages of documents and paid $600,000 to his client, who was sexually abused by a former pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Mokena.
Johnson said bigger news will come in a few weeks when he plans to release documents showing a practice of covering up sexual abuse that went on for decades.
“The story that is really a revelation to members of the diocese of Joliet and the people in the diocese is what the bishops knew. It’s actually stunning what they knew,” he said.
A spokesman for the diocese expressed doubt that the diocese documents will be much of a revelation, saying that “sexual abuse of minors has been going on for decades” in society.
“We’ve learned from that,” spokesman Jim Dwyer said. “So has the rest of the society by the way. We continue to learn about this issue.”
But Johnson said he believed Catholics will be surprised to learn details of how much the Joliet bishops knew and how they handled the problem.
Personnel records he released Tuesday document the diocese’s handling of a priest who was allegedly involved in multiple cases of sexual abuse in 1967 at the former St. Charles Borromeo seminary in Romeoville, where high school boys began their studies for the priesthood.
“This is abuse that’s going on in the seminary. That’s how prolific it is,” Johnson said, adding that the priest allegedly involved, the late Rev. James Frederick, was the dean of students.
The documents are reports from the late Auxiliary Bishop Roger Kaffer, who at that time was the rector running the seminary. The confidential records include a report to then-Bishop Romeo Blanchette of a conversation Kaffer had with Frederick. Kaffer writes that seminarians came to him about the problem and that he was concerned about their “psychological health.”
Johnson said diocese records show Frederick was put on administrative leave that year and later became the chief financial officer for the diocese.
The diocese has posted Frederick’s name on a website that lists 34 priests identified by the diocese as having faced credible or substantiated charges of sexual abuse. Nine of the names were added Tuesday after the settlement with Johnson’s client, David Rudofski.
Among those named is the Rev. James Burnett, who became pastor at St. Mary’s in Mokena in 1978 and served at the parish from 1974 to 1990. He also served at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensenville from 1968 to 1974 and was removed from ministry in 2006, according to the diocese.
The 7-year-old case against Burnett in Will County Circuit Court involved three victims, with Rudofski being the last to settle. As part of the settlement, Judge Michael J. Powers ordered the release of the diocese’s documents to Rudofski.
Dwyer said the alleged abuse occurred from the early 1970s to the early 1980s. Johnson said Rudofski was first abused at age 8 during his First Confession.
The diocese was the first to announce the settlement, posting a statement on its website Tuesday morning. In the statement, Bishop R. Daniel Conlon commented on the extent of sex abuse cases in the Joliet Diocese and failings in how they had been handled.
Noting that he became bishop 19 months ago, Conlon said, “Unfortunately the dark cloud of the history of child abuse in this diocese has imposed itself almost every day. The abuse itself and the way it was handled in many cases have created serious harm to the lives of individuals, parish communities and the whole diocese.”