Diocese Faces Abuse Lawsuit Men Say 3 Priests in Winfieldmolested Them

By Christy Gutowski
Chicago Daily Herald
October 15, 2003

As children, Jeff and John Welch said it was common for their family priest to give them a bedtime blessing in their Winfield home.

Forty years later, the brothers are accusing the priest and two of his colleagues of repeated sexual abuse, beginning during the nightly prayers and continuing even after the family moved out of state.

The brothers, now in their 40s, filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the Catholic Diocese of Joliet and three former priests they allege molested them. They said the abuse continued for six years until 1968 while they attended St. John the Baptist Church and its religious school in Winfield. The priests named in the suit are John C. Slown, Arno Dennerlein and Richard Ruffalo.

It's the sixth sex abuse lawsuit lodged against the diocese in recent years. The brothers said Tuesday they struggled through years of depression and counseling before coming to grips with the allegations.

"As a kid, you're taught to respect and admire priests, almost to the point that you believe these guys can't sin," said John Welch, 49, of Atlanta, Ga. "You walk through a lot of years wondering, 'Did this really happen? Was I really abused?' "

John and his 48-year-old brother, Jeff Welch, of New Jersey, both are married businessmen with families of their own. They accused Slown, formerly of St. John the Baptist, of abusing them after befriending their parents. Slown later introduced the family to Ruffalo and Dennerlein, who in the suit are accused of molesting one or both of the boys.

Their family moved in 1968 to New Jersey, but Jeff and John Welch said the abuse continued when Slown came to visit. John Welch said he finally reported the allegations to church officials in New Jersey after he turned 18. He said church officials assured him they would "take care of it."

John Cullen, a diocese spokesman, said he is unaware if the allegations ever were reported to Bishop Joseph Imesch, who had been installed in 1979, or other church leaders.

"All we can do is cooperate fully and give any facts as we know them," Cullen said. "I certainly would ask for the presumption of innocence."

Slown was convicted of abusing a boy in 1983 in DuPage County. That was when he served at St. Irene Catholic Church in Warrenville.

Ruffalo died in 1997. And the diocese placed Dennerlein, former pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Lombard, on administrative leave earlier this month after allegations surfaced that he had molested another boy more than 25 years ago.

The Welches' lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, also names Imesch and accuses him and the diocese of conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fiduciary fraud, negligence, breach of duty and vicarious liability.

The brothers spoke of the allegations Tuesday during a press conference in front of the diocese's headquarters in Joliet. As church bells resonated behind him, Jeff Welch explained his reasons for speaking publicly.

"It's time the Catholic Church recognize this is a crime," he said through tears.

"Other kids shouldn't have to be hurt like this."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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