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  Seven Priests Asked to Resign Public Ministries

By Michael Miller
Copley News Service
May 30, 2002

Seven priests in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, including three who have served in the Peoria area and others in central Illinois, have been asked to step down from public ministry after recent allegations of sexual misconduct involving minors, the diocese announced Thursday.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky sent letters to the priests last week requesting them to voluntarily stop functioning as priests publicly, to stop wearing clerical clothing or a Roman collar, and to refrain from using the title "reverend" or "father."

The diocese's actions come in the wake of a widening scandal in the Catholic Church. Several U.S. Catholic dioceses have been accused in recent months of mishandling molestation allegations against priests. American bishops will address the issue at their meeting June 13-15 in Dallas. The seven priests being asked to step down are: - Edward Bush, 70, who retired in April, most recently was pastor at St. Patrick in Colona. He previously was an assistant and later co-pastor at St. Thomas Church in Peoria Heights.

- John Anderson, 69, who retired in April, was most recently director of cemeteries, director of the diocesan office of the Propagation of the Faith, director of King's House of Retreats in Henry and chaplain of St. Joseph's Retirement Home in West Peoria.

Among his many other assignments, Anderson previously was an assistant at St. Catherine's in Aledo and St. Mary's in Canton, pastor at St. Rose in Rushville, St. Edward's in Chillicothe, and member of team ministry and pastor at St. Philomena's in Peoria.

- Robert Creager, 74, retired since 1998. His last assignment was as pastor at St. Patrick's in Ottawa.

- Walter Bruening, 73, retired since 1999. Most recently, he had been pastor of St. Joseph's in Henry. Previously, he also was pastor of St. Mary's Church in Henry.

- Richard Slavish, 68, retired since April. Most recently, he was pastor of St. Anthony's in Matherville and St. John's in Viola. He also had served as an assistant at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Galesburg and at St. Mary's Cathedral in Peoria, and as pastor at St. Francis in Kewanee and St. John's in Cambridge.

- Norman Goodman, 73, retired and living in Pekin since 1997. Most recently, he was pastor at Holy Family in Lincoln. He also was co-pastor and pastor at St. Columbia's in Mason City.

Accusations against Goodman were brought in 1997 by several former altar boys, and he resigned from public ministry at that time. One suit was dismissed with two others still pending. The diocese settled several cases brought against it involving Goodman.

- Gregory Plunkett, 57, pastor of St. Catherine's Parish in Aledo, St. Mary's in Keithsburg and St. Therese in New Boston. Plunkett has been withdrawn from all priestly ministry after allegations recently made public and being investigated by the diocese.

Plunkett has been accused by Daniel Koenigs, now 34, of molesting him in the early 1980s before Plunkett became a priest.

Plunkett has denied the accusations. A diocesan statement said that "despite Plunkett's denial of any wrongdoing, it was determined after additional allegations - again, prior to his entrance into the seminary - were received by diocesan officials that he should no longer function in active ministry."

Except in Goodman's case, all of the alleged incidents occurred between 20 and 40 years ago, the diocese said. Goodman is accused of having committed wrongdoing as recently as the 1990s.

Efforts to reach the priests were unsuccessful, except for Creager, who answered the phone "Father Creager" but hung up after a reporter identified himself.

Allegations against all the other priests that led to the bishop's actions have been made within the past eight weeks, the diocese said.

While the priests have been asked to voluntarily remove themselves from public ministry, if they refuse, the diocese could pursue legal action within the Catholic Church.

"Then it would become more of a canon law issue, and that's when a tribunal would be formed," said Kate Kenny, spokeswoman for the diocese.

Kenny said it's likely the men will honor the bishop's request. She also said the men technically will still be priests but won't be able to function as priests publicly. For instance, they couldn't baptize, conduct Mass or perform other sacraments publicly.

The decisions were made based on "credible allegations" brought to diocesan officials recently. Since the alleged incidents occurred so long ago, Kenny said, the statute of limitations had expired on them and the victims couldn't file criminal charges.

The diocese's actions also follow a new policy of handling accusations of sexual misconduct formulated by the diocese shortly after Jenky became bishop in early April. He said part of that policy was to make it easier for people to come forward with allegations.

While a commission recently was set up to deal with allegations and make other recommendations to Jenky, it hasn't met yet, Kenny said.

"The bishop wasn't comfortable waiting possibly another month or two" to take action regarding the seven priests, she said.

Jenky said in a statement that he was "deeply and sincerely sorry that any priest of the Diocese of Peoria has ever been guilty of sexual misconduct or any other offense."

"Please also know that even in the highly charged and often confusing climate of these days, our diocese has not hesitated to follow our procedures regarding sexual misconduct and to act decisively no matter now painful or embarrassing might be the consequences or how far in the past the abuse may have taken place.

"It should also be clear that allegations of current sexual misconduct against minors or other violations of the law will always be immediately turned over to the civil authorities."

Jenky added that he believes "it is rather important to also state publicly that the overwhelming majority of priests, religious and laity that serve this diocese have been faithful to their vocations in the church."

 
 

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