Ex-priest Accused of Child Abuse Fired from Cwlp
By Crystal Thomas
State Journal Register
January 7, 2019
The city of Springfield has fired a City Water, Light and Power employee whose name appeared on a list of Catholic priests credibly accused of child sex abuse.
Joseph D. Cernich, 62, had been a technical support specialist in CWLP’s information systems division. He was laicized, or stripped of his priestly title, in June 2003 and began working for the city five months later.
After an investigation into his hiring and employment, the city mailed Cernich notice he was no longer employed, according to Human Resources Director Jim Kuizin. Cernich was on paid administrative leave during the investigation, and his “day of separation” from the city was Dec. 28.
Kuizin declined comment when asked for the cause of Cernich’s firing.
Cernich’s annual salary had been $57,000. He did not receive severance pay but was paid for unused vacation and compensatory time, Kuizin said.
According to city policy, if an HR investigation yields a recommendation for disciplinary action, the mayor decides whether the recommendation should be followed. Mayor Jim Langfelder did not have a comment on the matter.
Cernich has until the 10th day after receiving his termination notice to decide whether to appeal the city’s decision through the Springfield Civil Service Commission or arbitration. A request for comment from Cernich was not answered.
The city was told Monday Cernich is be represented by his union, according to city attorney Jim Zerkle. A representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 193 said the union had no comment.
Cernich began his employment at CWLP as a “microcomputer trainer” in November 2003 with a salary of $36,000. His employment offer was signed off on by then-Mayor Tim Davlin.
There is no record of complaints or disciplinary action in Cernich’s city personnel file, which the newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. All of the evaluations of Cernich in his personnel file are positive.
Before he applied to work at the city, he was an employee in the administrative office of Springfield Catholic Charities from 1995 to 2002, while he was still considered a priest, though he couldn’t administer sacraments or celebrate Mass. In his city job application, he cited “resignation” and “family concerns” as reasons for leaving Catholic Charities. The Catholic Diocese of Springfield would not confirm whether Cernich resigned.
The diocese also has refused to say which parishes Cernich had been assigned to as a priest, nor what he was accused of doing, for which the diocese has received criticism. The accusations against the priests on the list were evaluated by a diocesan review board, made up of lay members not employed by the diocese who have professional experience in law enforcement, criminal and civil law, education and psychology.
Cernich is the only priest on the list of 19 — posted in November by the diocese at https://promise.dio.org — that has not been publicly, through local media or lawsuits, accused of sexual abuse in the past.
The list of priests with substantiated claims of sex abuse of minors was distributed by the diocese in response to a review by the Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Last month, Madigan released a preliminary report finding that Catholic dioceses in Illinois have massively under-reported allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.
Cernich’s career path as a priest is unclear.
Newspaper records show that after graduating from Griffin High School in 1974, he started studying for the priesthood at the diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception later that year. He graduated from Springfield College, received a bachelor’s degree from Cardinal Glennon College and received a master’s degree from Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.
Cernich was ordained a Catholic priest in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in mid-1983, according to a SJ-R article from the time. The summer before he was ordained, he served as a deacon at St. Mary’s Church in Quincy and St. Ambrose Church in Godfrey. The article said Cernich would be assigned as an associate pastor within the Diocese of Springfield.
According to a diocesan pastoral directory published in 1986, Cernich was a listed as one of the parochial vicars at Our Saviour Church in Jacksonville, along with Robert DeGrand, another priest who appeared on the diocese’s list.
Several marriage and obituary notices from 1987 to 1989 list Cernich as the officiant and place the ceremonies at Blessed Sacrament Church in Springfield. Newspaper archives also show he officiated weddings and funerals at St. Agnes Church, St. Cabrini Church and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, all in Springfield, as well as St. Mary’s Church in Canton.
Official Catholic directories from 1987 and 1993 list Cernich under priests who took a leave of absence that year.
Contact Crystal Thomas: 788-1528, firstname.lastname@example.org