4 Joliet Priests Ousted
Allegations of Sexual Abuse Involve Pastors in Elmhurst and Itasca
By David Heinzmann
May 6, 2002
The Diocese of Joliet removed four priests from public ministry Sunday, including two suburban pastors, because of sexual misconduct allegations.
In three of the cases, the abuse is alleged to have taken place more than 25 years ago. Officials have substantiated allegations against three of the four priests, said Sister Judith Davies, diocesan chancellor.
In the last five weeks, Bishop Joseph Imesch has removed 10 of his 194 priests because of the clerical sex scandal. Imesch has been under fire for reassigning priests to new communities where parishioners knew nothing of their sexual misconduct.
The pastors named Sunday were Rev. Donald Pock, 69, of St. Peter's in Itasca and Rev. John F. Barrett, 69, of Mary Queen of Heaven in Elmhurst. The other two priests--Rev. Edward Poff, 71, and Rev. Lowell Fischer, 78--are retired from full-time duty but were serving in restricted capacities because church officials had previously substantiated the claims against them.
Barrett was put on temporary leave because the allegation against him is still being investigated by the diocese. All four cases were among 16 cases turned over to prosecutors last week to determine if criminal charges were warranted, Davies said.
No Joliet Diocese priests with "substantiated allegations" against them remain on active duty, Davies said Sunday.
Imesch went to Itasca Sunday to tell parishioners at St. Peter's that Pock had been removed because of an allegation made a month ago about sexual misconduct dating back more than 25 years, Davies said. The Diocesan Review Committee, which investigates allegations of misconduct by priests, substantiated the allegation and recommended Pock's removal.
"The bishop said it was something that happened 25 or 30 years ago and that [Pock] has been good ever since," parishioner Pat Barbee said.
Davies said that she did not have any information about the abuse or the victim, but said Pock is now in "a safe place where he poses no risk to children." Pock had been at St. Peter's since the early 1990s, parishioners said. He was a founding pastor in 1968 of Divine Savior Church in Downers Grove and also held a post at Lewis University in Romeoville.
Auxiliary Bishop Roger Kaffer told the Elmhurst parish that the allegation against Barrett was made in 1991. Church officials shelved the investigation in 1992 because they could not substantiate the claim, Davies said.
Parishioners were stunned by the news about Barrett, who has been at the church since 1996. John Maloney, one of the parish's two deacons, said he's skeptical of the allegation.
"I couldn't be any more flabbergasted," Maloney said. "I know this man very well. I've been on the altar with him. I visited the sick with him. I've been at wake services involving my own family. And he's just such--to use the expression 'normal' is an understatement for a man like that--a special person. I have had ... no intimation there was ever a problem in his past."
A visiting priest had been filling in for Barrett for the past two weekends. Maloney said he was told it was because Barrett had a back problem.
The Barrett case is being re-examined because of the diocese's new stance on sexual abuse allegations, Davies said.
Departing from a longstanding policy of keeping such allegations secret, the diocese last week turned over allegations against at least 16 priests, dating from 1970, to the Will County and DuPage County state's attorneys.
The diocese took the action in part hoping to block a pending court action that seeks to unseal records of the allegations and of church officials' handling of them. Davies said Sunday that the diocese is trying to send a message that it places the well-being of victims first.
"Victims suffer and victims remember what happened to them so they have to be ministered to and cared for," she said.
The allegation against Poff is the most recent. A victim accused him in 1994 of sexual abuse that same year, Davies said. The allegation was substantiated by the diocese, and Poff was sent to therapy and then assigned to restricted ministry as a chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital in Kankakee. He worked there until last year. Since retirement, Poff has helped out at St. Patrick's and other Joliet parishes.
The first allegations against Fischer were made in Hawaii, where he relocated in 1975 for an 18-year leave of absence from the Joliet Diocese, Davies said. He ran a mission for the poor on Oahu and he was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit that was later dropped, she said. Davies did not know why Fischer requested the leave in 1975.
When Fischer returned to the diocese in 1993, he was placed on restricted ministry and assigned to the St. Francis Convent in Frankfort, where he presided at masses for retired nuns. A new allegation against Fischer was made in the last month, Davies said.
Fischer can no longer preside at mass, and he must remain in his living quarters when there are visitors at the convent, Davies said.
In April the diocese removed Rev. Gary Berthiaume and Rev. Phillip Dedera from hospital and nursing home chaplain posts in DuPage County. Rev. Carroll Howlin was called back from Kentucky, where he had been working as a missionary among the rural poor since 1977, not long after he allegedly abused a seminarian.
The diocese later recalled two priests whom Imesch had sent to St. Louis to work as hospital chaplains after they were accused of sexually abusing youths. The Archdiocese of St. Louis said Imesch sent letters on behalf of Rev. Fred Lenzcycki and Rev. J. Anthony Meis that said neither had anything in their pasts that would impede their ministry.
The new accusations were another shock for Dina Berardi of Itasca, who had stopped going to mass because of the church's handling of abuse cases.
"When [Pock] came into the parish, he announced to all of us that he was a cured alcoholic, and I thought it took a big man to announce that to all of us," Berardi said. "We looked up to him, and I still think it might be false."
None of the four priests could be reached for comment.
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