release files on accused Joliet priests
By Michael Tarm
April 30, 2014
|Attorney Jeff Anderson,
left, responds to a question on the release of sex abuse
documents from the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., during a news
conference with priest sex abuse victim Dave Rudofsky, right,
Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in Chicago. Anderson spoke to
reporters Wednesday as his law firm released documents on 16
priests over several decades.
|Christine McGovern talks
about the "living hell" her family went through after
discovering her two brothers were priest sex abuse victims and
trying to get importation on their abuse, after the release of
sex abuse documents by 16 priest in the Diocese of Joliet,
Ill., during a news conference Wednesday, April 30, 2014, in
Chicago. The Diocese of Joliet encompasses seven counties just
to the west and southwest of Chicago. It serves nearly 655,000
parishioners, including 39,000 students at 68 schools and
three universities. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of
Chicago released some 6,000 pages of complaints, personnel
documents and other files for about 30 priests. They show how
the church often shielded priests and failed to report child
sex abuse to authorities.
CHICAGO — Lawyers on
Wednesday released a deposition with a long-serving bishop and
letters and thousands of files from the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Joliet — documents that they say show diocesan
officials downplayed, dismissed and sometimes covered up sex
abuse by priests.
In a 247-page deposition, Joseph L. Imesch, who was the
Joliet bishop from 1979 to 2006, concedes under blistering
questioning he sometimes allowed priests to stay on or
transferred them as allegations they sexually abused children
Taken as a whole, the documents paint a picture of a
bishop who is consistently indecisive, at best, and diocese
officials who seemed obsessed with ensuring the accusations
couldn't sully their reputations, Jeff Anderson, whose law
firm released the files on 16 priests, told reporters.
"The documents show a long-term pattern and long-term
choices by ... bishops and their superiors to protect themselves
and their priests at the peril of children," Anderson said.
In the 2005 deposition with Imesch, he was asked about
Edward Stefanich, a longtime priest in the diocese who was
eventually arrested in 1987 and later pleaded guilty to criminal
Asked if he considered taking complaints about Stefanich
to police years earlier — potentially stopping Stefanich
before he abused others — Imesch said he had not.
"I would not do that," he says in the
deposition. "There is no hard evidence this is happening.
And I am not going to go say, 'Hey, police. Go check on my
The Joliet-based diocese, which serves nearly 655,000
parishioners over a large area west and southwest of Chicago,
would not deal with abuse allegations the same way now, diocesan
spokesman Edward Flavin said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
"Abuse allegations are handled far better
today," he said. "Any and all allegations are fully
reported to public authorities. ... We take it very
Imesch is retired and still living within the diocese, but
not granting interviews, Flavin added.
The release of the deposition, letters and files Wednesday
is the latest example of a U.S. diocese turning over documents
— that are then opened to the public, as in this case, by
attorneys. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese of Chicago
released 6,000 pages of documents on about 30 priests.
The content of the Joliet documents is consistent with
what's been revealed in similar such releases, Anderson
"I'm sad to say, the pattern is the same,"
he said. "(Diocese officials) follow a protocol that allows
them to avoid scandal." That includes erring on the side of
keeping things secret whenever possible, he said.
In the deposition, Imesch acknowledges the diocese had a
secret archive that only he and one person designated by him had
access to, but he denied using it to bury complaints of sexual
misconduct by priests.
But pressed by a plaintiff's lawyer in the deposition
— which was taken as part of a civil lawsuit 10 years ago
— he says investigations of abuse by the diocese before
the early 2000s often consisted of him asking the priest if the
allegations were true or not. He says he didn't go through
files when he became bishop in 1979 to determine which priests
were the subjects of complaints.
Dozens of the released documents refer to Frederick
Lenczycki, who was convicted in 2004 of abusing three boys.
Complaints from parishioners and letters to and from the priest
and the diocese indicate multiple allegations of abuse going
back 30 years.
In one 1985 letter to Imesch, Lenczycki writes he cried
"like a baby — like I did in your arms" after
mentioning to someone what he'd done.
Asked why he chose to let Lenczycki and other priests
continue in the ministry after reports emerged of child abuse
that the bishop himself deemed credible, Imesch several times
notes they had received therapy.
On another occasion, Imesch transferred a priest to a new
parish after complaints he had played inappropriate games with
children in the nude, according to the deposition.
"The psychiatrist said it was OK, so I put him in
(another) parish," Imesch says in the deposition. "It
was not considered a crime or a criminal activity, so there was
no reason for me not to transfer him."
A lawyer in the deposition pressed Imesch about what level
of proof and what level of alleged abuse he needed to deem a
priest unfit for the priesthood.
Imesch was asked about his resistance to remove Stefanich
as suspicions swirled around him in the years before his arrest
and even after police suggested the priest was a possible
suspect in a murder.
"Suspicion is not enough to remove someone.
That's a police job to investigate," he responds.
Those who questioned him also note in the deposition that
the bishop sent a note to Stefanich as police scrutiny
intensified on the abuse allegations against the priest.
Asked if he ever offered his "personal assurances and
prayers and whatever help might be needed" to
Stefanich's victim, Imesch says he tried to reach out to her
but "never had a chance to meet her."