7 Peoria Priests Ousted Amid Abuse Allegations
By Flynn McRoberts and David Heinzmann
May 31, 2002
Stripping them of their Roman collars and the right to call themselves Father, the Diocese of Peoria on Thursday removed seven priests from ministry after "credible" allegations of sexual misconduct were made by more than a dozen people.
The move by Bishop Daniel R. Jenky was part of an aggressive attempt to improve the sprawling diocese's handling of sexual abuse cases since his installation as bishop April 10.
The revelations come at an awkward time for Jenky's predecessor, John J. Myers, whom Pope John Paul II promoted last year to lead the Archdiocese of Newark. Just last month, Myers was named to the eight-member committee of Catholic bishops who are crafting a policy on sex abuse to be discussed next month in Dallas by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Through a spokesman, Myers denied knowledge of any of the allegations made by 13 people in the last eight weeks.
"He is very saddened by the news of these new allegations, in particular for the victims but also for the priests as well," said Jim Goodness, spokesman for the Newark archdiocese.
"He understands that these allegations and the actions of the diocese are based on information that was received since he left the diocese to come to Newark," Goodness said. "So he really has no knowledge of the individual allegations against these priests."
But officials in the Peoria Diocese said the first allegations against Rev. John Anderson came in 1993, three years after Myers was installed as bishop of the diocese, which covers 26 counties and includes more than 240,000 Catholics.
"At that time it was the wish of the accuser that Father Anderson be removed from parish ministry" at St. Philomena in Peoria, said the spokeswoman, Kate Kenny. "The accusers didn't want him to go public with anything; they just wanted him removed from parish ministry. And that's what the diocese did," reassigning him to administrative duties.
In announcing Thursday's actions, Jenky, the former auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend, Ind., said: "Our diocese has not hesitated to follow our procedures regarding sexual misconduct and to act decisively no matter how painful or embarrassing might be the consequences, or how far in the past the abuse may have taken place."
The allegations against one of the priests, Norman Goodman, 73, the former pastor of Holy Family Church in Lincoln, Ill., first came to the diocese's attention in 1997. Goodman resigned from his duties but maintained his innocence and remained a priest.
In 1999, the diocese settled lawsuits with his accusers.
Young men who said Goodman abused them during his 35-year tenure as a pastor in Lincoln, which lies between Peoria and Springfield, were pleased by the news that he had been stripped of his status as a priest.
"Lincoln is a small community, and they were vilified by a certain segment of the community because they had the courage to come forward," said lawyer Frederic Nessler, who represented 16 of Goodman's accusers. "And now they feel vindicated."
In addition to Anderson, 69, and Goodman, the other priests included Gregory Plunkett, 57, the only one currently leading parishes: St. Catherine's in Aledo and St. Mary's in Keithsburg.
One of Plunkett's accusers, Dan Koenigs, informed the diocese in early April that Plunkett had fondled him in the early 1980s when he was 13 or 14 and Plunkett had not yet enrolled in the seminary. Koenigs said he was with Plunkett in the back seat of a car driven by Rev. Francis Engels, who resigned from the ministry in 1993 after several people accused him of abuse.
Plunkett denies any wrongdoing, the diocese said, but, "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."
Koenigs said he was relieved to hear about Plunkett's removal but still angry with him. "Because he has openly denied the allegations, he's forced me to go public with a very painful part of my life," said Koenigs, 34, a substance-abuse counselor in Monticello, Ill.
The other priests removed Thursday are: Edward Bush, 70, former pastor of St. Patrick, Colona; Robert Creager, 74, former pastor of St. Patrick, Ottawa; Walter Bruening, 73, former pastor of St. Joseph and St. Mary, Henry; and Richard Slavish, 68, former pastor of St. Anthony, Matherville, and St. John, Viola.
Catholics in the Peoria diocese have generally reacted positively to the new bishop's handling of the cases he inherited.
In his first weeks as bishop, Jenky apologized to victims of sexual abuse, disclosed that church officials were investigating two cases of abuse by priests and began to outline a new policy for handling allegations.
Last week Jenky announced the creation of a secret 13-member Diocesan Review Commission charged with investigating sexual misconduct allegations against priests and other church employees.
At the commission's first meeting, tentatively scheduled to come in the weeks after the June 13-15 bishops meeting in Dallas, members will receive a review of all of the diocese's current clergy personnel files.
A woman who answered the phone at St. Catherine's in Aledo, where Plunkett was pastor, said parish members were confused about what would happen next at their church.
"There's already such a shortage of priests," the woman said.
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