Priest Sex-abuse Suit Seeks $5M from Rockford Diocese
By Chris Green
January 31, 2014
A Rockford woman is suing Holy Family Catholic Church and the Catholic Diocese of Rockford for $5 million, saying she was sexually abused for three years while a student at Holy Family Catholic School from 1972 to 1980.
Kathleen Gibbons, 46, is represented by the law office of Rene Hernandez. The suit, filed Friday, also names three clergy members as defendants: Monsignor Al Harte, Father Bob and Brother Allen. Harte died in 2002; Hernandez said the last names of Bob and Allen and their whereabouts are unknown.
"The case is being investigated fully, but we have no information at this time to suggest that these allegations are credible," diocesan attorney Ellen Lynch said.
Gibbons says the abuse took place between 1978 and 1980, when she was 11 to 13 years old.
Hernandez said Gibbons suppressed the memories, a common defense mechanism for young victims of sexual abuse, so she could move on with her life. Still, he said, Gibbons suffered mental anguish, post-traumatic stress disorder and even tried to commit suicide.
"Only now has she been able to face these demons."
The 54-page suit specifies multiple sex acts, including fondling, masturbating in front of the child, oral sex, vaginal penetration and sodomy.
"Despite having actual knowledge of Rev. Harte's pedophile propensities and previous instances of molestation of other children," the suit says, "Defendant Diocese and others concealed the danger which he and other offending clerics presented by misrepresenting them as priests in good standing, thus enabling those offending clerics to retain their continued, unrestricted access to minor children in Illinois."
Hernandez is encouraging others with allegations of abuse to call his office, 815-387-0261.
Attorney Gregory Snyder of Hinshaw & Culbertson is representing the diocese. He deferred comment to the diocese, which issued this statement: "Father Harte was associate pastor at the parish from Aug. 3, 1976, to Sept. 26, 1977, and pastor from Sept. 26, 1977, to July 14, 1989. He was elevated to a monsignor on Jan. 3, 1996. He died Aug. 24, 2002."
A statement from Bishop David Malloy said the diocese "makes every effort to assure the safety and protection of its young people and takes accusations of abuse by any person very seriously.
"Even though the claims of abuse in this case occurred 35 years ago and one of the accused parties is deceased, this case is being fully investigated, and we are confident justice will be served."