The Courage of Abuse Victim Joe Iacono
By Dave Bakke
January 22, 2014
|Joe Iacono of Springfield was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest when Iacono was a child living in the Chicago area. The Chicago archdiocese released records this week that showed decades of covering up for priests like the one who abused Iacono. Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register|
Both of Chicago’s major daily newspapers and some of its TV stations led their coverage of Tuesday’s press conference on sexual abuse of minors in the archdiocese with Joe Iacono.
Joe, who lives in Springfield, was front and center for one grueling, emotional day as the Chicago archdiocese released records that showed decades spent mishandling and covering up for priests who had abused kids, including Joe. Joe was sexually victimized by the late Rev. Thomas Kelly when Joe was a teen in Northlake, attending St. John Vianney, the family parish.
Joe said it was gut-wrenching to put himself out there on Tuesday, basically becoming the face of the victims. He is just a regular guy; known before now only for his job as a financial adviser and his years with Springfield’s Roman Cultural Society, the presidency of which he will relinquish in a few weeks.
Before returning to what I am sure will be welcome anonymity, Joe agreed to tell me how he came to be facing the media at the podium on Tuesday.
His trip to the press conference on the 23rd floor of Chicago’s Allerton Hotel began when Marc Pearlman, Chicago associate of Joe’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, called. Pearlman explained that when the archdiocese released its records on abuse, there would be a press conference. Marc and Jeff wanted Joe to be one of six or seven victims who would tell their stories and answer questions.
Though he knew it would be difficult, Joe immediately agreed. Why? Why put himself through that and dredge up the horror of 40-plus years ago?
“Because this is much bigger than just me,” he told me. “I’m just a pipeline for information to the public. And because if I speak about it, it could help someone else, too. Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have done it.”
He had been given a week’s notice; a week to worry and to prepare himself mentally for facing a horde of media to talk about something so intensely personal that he refused to acknowledge it to himself until he was well into his adulthood.
“I got very anxious the day before the press conference,” he says. “And when that happens, my wife (Catherine) knows just to leave me alone. Doing the press conference made me relive it (the abuse). And there’s still some feeling of shame.”
His therapist has told Joe that feeling shame is normal. But he must also tell himself he did nothing to be ashamed of. That is easy to say, easy to know it’s the right thing, but it’s hard to make the mind accept it.
Joe said that with the television lights, it must have been near 100 degrees at the press conference. I found out from talking with him that, as arduous it was standing before a crowd of photographers and reporters on Tuesday, the more difficult ordeal may have been telling his devoutly Catholic mother about what Kelly did to her son.
She was of that generation that came before all of this, when people were blindly loyal to the church. It was God to them. No real difference. But Joe knew that what happened to him was going to come out and she had to hear it from him first. He had met with officials of the Chicago archdiocese, including Cardinal Francis George, to tell them his story. He asked the cardinal to write a letter that would explain things to Mrs. Iacono because Joe knew that would carry great weight with her.
Most of all, he was afraid that once his mother knew, she would blame herself for not better protecting her son. We parents are like that. We blame ourselves first for most things that go wrong with our kids.
“I didn’t want her to do that,” Joe says. His mother was in assisted living by the time he told her. She was in the early stages of dementia, which might have been a blessing. But Joe says she was still lucid enough to understand what her son was saying. I just can’t imagine how hard that must have been — for them both.
My hat is off to Joe. He has had the mettle to do what he had to do.
After moving to Springfield in 1984, Joe still attended Mass, first at Blessed Sacrament and then, for a short time, Christ the King. But he was beginning to acknowledge to himself what had happened with Kelly and the role it played in what was a messed-up life. He couldn’t stay in a church that had hurt him so badly. He has been gone a long time.
Those of us who have not yet left the Catholic church, at least not physically, have our different reasons for staying. Because we stay, we have been battered for such a long time now. Some have gone from defense to disbelief, revulsion, anger and frustration. We have been through the scandals in Boston, L.A., Chicago and have had our share of pain to endure in the Springfield diocese.
But as long as there are Catholic church leaders like our Bishop Thomas Paprocki who, after all this, could tell The Washington Times last fall that the church has handled the sexual abuse scandal as responsibly as any organization in the world could, well, the uncovering of more and still more will not stop.
Know of something quirky? Emotional? Funny? Inspiring? Dave Bakke is your man and his deadline is always near. Pitch your idea to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 788-1541. His column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. To read more, visit www.sj-r.com/bakke.