Coal City Priest Removed Form Ministry after Alleged Victim Reports Abuse

Associated Press
May 18, 2002

A Roman Catholic priest in Coal City was removed from public ministry Saturday because of an allegation of sexual misconduct that dates back more than three decades, the Diocese of Joliet said.

The Rev. Donald O'Connor, pastor of Assumption Parish in Coal City, "has acknowledged that the incident occurred," diocese spokeswoman Judith Davies said.

She said it is the only such allegation against the priest. She said the victim, who was not identified, was an adolescent when the abuse occurred.

O'Connor's removal - at least the 11th in the diocese - was based on the recommendations of a diocesan review committee and was effective immediately, Davies said.

Church officials were told about the abuse May 14, Davies said. She said the victim was prompted to come forward by a recent letter Joliet Diocese Bishop Joseph Imesch sent parishioners encouraging them to report sexual misconduct by priests.

"It's clear that the letter is doing what it's supposed to do," Davies said.

O'Connor could not be reached for comment. He has moved to an undisclosed location, Davies said.

In a letter to parishioners dated Saturday, Imesch said the alleged abuse took place more than 30 years ago when O'Connor was an associate pastor at Assumption.

"I know that this information comes as a shock to you," Imesch said in the letter. "Father O'Connor has been a caring and compassionate pastor for you."

The bishop also said in the letter that counselors will be available to meet with parishioners on Tuesday. He was scheduled to attend Mass at Assumption Sunday morning, a normal procedure when a priest is removed, Davies said.

"The church knows how horrible a matter such as this can be," she said. "It has to be extremely painful for the people there."

Coal City is about 25 miles south of Joliet and about 60 miles south of Chicago.

Imesch - who until recently has lacked a formal review and reporting policy - has given prosecutors files relating to more than a dozen accused priests. In some cases, the priests moved to new dioceses and parishes, where church officials now say they were not warned.

Prosecutors in DuPage and Will counties are reviewing the documents to see if they contain any live criminal cases, or if there might be grounds for stretching the statute of limitations on old allegations.

Davies said she expects that the allegation against O'Connor also will be turned over to authorities in Grundy County.


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