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  Priests Accused of Sex Abuse

Daily Southtown
June 17, 2004

Franciscan friars in New Lenox face lawsuit

Two Franciscan friars assigned to St. Jude Catholic Parish in New Lenox were accused in a lawsuit Wednesday of sexually abusing a male student there in the mid-1970s. The lawsuit claims Franciscans Jeffrey Salwach and Harold Jochem forced a pre-teen boy to engage in oral and group sex several times, smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. The abuse began in 1974 and lasted until 1978, according to the lawsuit.

The boy, now a man in his late 30s living in Illinois, has been hospitalized for depression and suicidal tendencies, as well as drug addiction as a result of the abuse, his attorney Michael Bolos said.

"This is another situation where a man, now an adult, has largely had his life ruined by a priest," Bolos said. "He's undergone a very unpleasant divorce. He's become estranged from his wife and children. He spent years, including much of his teenage years, in a chemical and alcoholic fog."

Bolos said his client suppressed all memory of the abuse until recently undergoing counseling. The lawsuit seeks more than $200,000 in damages.

Salwach is now serving at a parish in Texas; a message left for him there was not returned. Jochem is deceased. The lawsuit also names the Order of Friars Minor, based in St. Louis, and the Diocese of Joliet and accuses them of failing to intervene to stop the priests' abuse.

The Rev. John Doctor, head of the local Franciscan province, said he couldn't comment specifically on the suit since he hadn't read it yet.

"We respond to any victim and try to address their needs," he said.

Joliet diocese spokesman John Cullen said the only involvement the bishop at the time (Romeo Blanchette, now deceased) would have had with the order priests would have been granting them permission to work in the diocese.

"We'll treat this as we would treat any other allegation, but we have a lot of checking to do on it," Cullen said.

The diocese now faces three lawsuits related to the conduct of its own priests. During the sexual abuse scandal in the church beginning in 2001, the diocese removed 10 priests from ministry, including a convicted child molester who had been working in Warrenville.

Five other lawsuits were struck down by a Will County judge last year.

 
 

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