The Church's Sorry Record

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 6, 2004

Too often when faced with accusations that a priest had abused a child, the Catholic Church and civil authorities seemed all too eager to allow the matter to slip through the cracks and quietly disappear.

The latest evidence of this attitude involves a priest named Simon Palathingal, Milwaukee Auxiliary Bishop Richard Sklba and the Milwaukee County district attorney's office. It demonstrates once again the need to give past victims the ability to take the church to court to obtain some measure of justice.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Sklba and the district attorney's office were given information that could have led to an investigation of Palathingal, who today stands accused of four counts of first-degree sexual assault in 1990 and '91 of Nick Janovsky, then 9. Authorities in Louisiana are also investigating a complaint against the priest, who was arrested early last month in New Jersey.

There is no doubt of the many contributions Sklba has made to the Milwaukee community or of the respect in which he is held by most. But on this issue, he, like many of his colleagues in the church hierarchy, may have had a blind eye.

A parishioner at Mother of Good Counsel Church in Milwaukee said he warned Sklba that one or more boys were seen coming and going from the residence of Dennis Pecore, a priest who had been convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy. The visits could have been a violation of Pecore's parole. In a 1989 letter to the parishioner, Sklba wrote that the matter had been discussed with Pecore and that the priest had denied the charges.

"If you have additional information, I suggest that you deal with civil authorities directly," Sklba added.

The bishop did not indicate whether there would be any further investigation or that there had been any investigation beyond asking Pecore whether he'd broken the law. The fact that contracts were not renewed for three teachers who also complained about Pecore only reinforces the charge made by victims' groups that the archdiocese's first thought was protection of church authority rather than children.

Pecore was living at the time with Palathingal and introduced his colleague to Janovsky, who was Pecore's nephew. Pecore was convicted in 1994 of abusing Janovsky; Palathingal stands accused now of abusing Janovsky as well.

The district attorney's office was informed of the alleged abuse by Palathingal in the early 1990s but did not follow up because Palathingal had briefly returned to his native India and because officials in the office apparently believed that filing charges was not in the victim's best interest. That sounds odd.

But to give the office and the archdiocese the benefit of the doubt, no one wanted to see children harmed. It's just that no one reacted aggressively enough when signals were being sent, and because no one did, abuses may have continued.

That's still fairly damning. And it shows that — no matter how much church authorities may wish otherwise — there's much work to be done to obtain justice for victims and restore the church's credibility on this issue.


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