Cases of Nine Former Altar Boys Thrown out
Ex-Lincoln Pastor Still Faces One Suit Charging Sex Abuse
By John Briggs and Sara Baker
State Journal-Register [Springfield IL]
July 3, 1999
Nine of the remaining 10 former altar boys accusing Monsignor Norman Goodman of sexual abuse had their case thrown out of court Friday.
Peoria County Judge Rebecca Steenrod dismissed the civil suit brought by the nine adults, describing their arguments of delayed discovery of the abuse as "incredible."
However, charges brought by a plaintiff who is still a minor remain in force. The next hearing on that matter has not been scheduled. Afterward, Goodman, who retired in 1997 after serving as pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Lincoln for 35 years, would say only that he was "relieved" by the judge's decision. He said he was warned by his lawyers to say nothing more since the minor's lawsuit is still in effect.
In court Friday, opposing attorneys argued the merit of the plaintiffs' claims that they didn't discover the psychological damage they suffered as a result of the alleged sexual abuse until they became adults.
Steenrod sided with Goodman, saying the allegations of the plaintiffs were insufficient to overcome the statute of limitations.
Goodman's attorney, DMP William VonHoene of the Jenner and Block law firm in Chicago, argued that the plaintiffs used identical language and identical circumstances in their complaints, while offering no specific descriptions of psychological damage. He said the "delayed-discovery" theory was implausible, because several plaintiffs made the accusations 15 years ago.
VonHoene said parents of three of the plaintiffs went to the diocese in the mid-1980s to complain of Goodman's behavior toward their sons.
He said it was inconsistent for the plaintiffs to now claim they discovered the psychological damage in 1997 when their parents had come forward with allegations in the 1980s. The three plaintiffs were not identified in court.
Because the case has been dismissed, Steenrod said, it's a "moot point" whether the plaintiffs' identities are ever made public. Now, anyone involved in the case, including Goodman, can identify the nine accusers.
If the plaintiffs wish to appeal, they must do so within 30 days.
Goodman resigned his position as pastor at Holy Family in October 1997 when he learned of the accusations against him by 12 former altar boys, who alleged he had sexually abused them, one by one, over a period of 20 years, from 1970 to 1990.
All but one of the accusers, represented by the firm of Frederic Nessler and Associates, are adults. They filed suit against Goodman and the Catholic Diocese of Peoria in August 1998, asking for $ 1 million in damages and "a sum in excess of $ 50,000" for each alleged victim.
Goodman "touched and fondled" the boys "for the purpose obtaining sexual gratification," the suit charges. Some alleged victims spoke of Goodman fondling them while putting dollar bills in their pockets.
The diocese settled its portion of the suit in April, though the terms of the settlement were not disclosed and remain secret under the agreement.
Goodman, meanwhile, has vowed to fight "to his last breath" to clear his name of the charges against him.
Local supporters of Goodman have faulted the diocese for settling out of court, describing that decision as a betrayal of Goodman and an implicit acceptance that the charges against him are true.
Former Lincoln Mayor Pete Andrews, who participated in a DMP short-lived campaign to display black ribbons around town in support of Goodman and who has been one of the priest's most passionate supporters, accused the diocese of "destroying" Goodman by settling out of court.
"The diocese didn't give him the support he deserved," Andrews said, adding, however, that news that the nine cases were thrown out was "the best news of the day."
"Isn't that wonderful? It shows that our efforts were worthwhile in supporting Monsignor Goodman," he said.
The accusations against Goodman have evoked fierce emotions on both sides of the controversy in Lincoln.
Helen Rainforth, the mother of Lance Rainforth, the only publicly identified plaintiff in the suit, allegedly tore ribbons in support of Goodman from the Holy Family church door and railings before mass on April 20, and factions reportedly faced off as they had on other occasions since the accusations became public.
Dorothy Paulus, a Goodman supporter, said when the settlement by the diocese was announced, the charges and counter-charges "split the church."
"People we've been friends with for years," she said, "we're no longer friends with. There's a terrible feeling in the church. We wonder why we even go to church.
"All it takes to destroy a man," she added, "is a few rotten apples."
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