Benham Had DCFS Status
Ex-Priest Provided Weekend Care for Boys from Foster Homes

By James Washburn
January 23, 2006

Before being convicted of sex offenses, Francis Benham became a certified child care provider for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and kept boys in his Lincoln home during weekends to provide relief for foster parents.

Benham was to be released Sunday from the Prince George's County Correctional Center in Maryland where he served 10 months in jail for sexually assaulting and abusing a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy from 1977 to 1979 while he was a priest at a Catholic church in Maryland.

DCFS personnel may not have known of Benham's criminal past because charges against Benham were not reported to police until 2004 when the 13-year-old female victim came forward

Investigators have said the Washington, D.C., archdiocese knew of the allegations in 1979 and transferred Benham to Columbus, Ohio, where he worked for two catholic churches as a non-parish minister from 1979 to 1987, when he moved to Lincoln.

Lincoln police spent about three months last year investigating local allegations of sex crimes after Deborah Denney, 45, who had a five-year business relationship with the 69-year-old former priest, told police Benham may have committed sex crimes locally, Lincoln police detective Paul Adams said today.

Adams said police investigated Benham from March until May, when they ended their probe without any evidence of wrongdoing.

"There were a lot of allegations, but nothing to substantiate those allegations," Adams said.

Adams confirmed Benham provided respite care at his Lincoln home for DCFS on at least two occasions, including weekend care for a 14-year-old boy in April 2003 and a 16-year-old boy for a weekend in February 2003.

Adams said the teens denied being abused or assaulted by Benham.

Denney said she believes Benham cared for as many as five kids during a two-year period.

"I just don't want to see any more kids get hurt," she said. "How he made it through the system (and became a DCFS respite care provider), I don't know."

Rachel Grunder, 34, who lives two houses down from Benham's residence in the 300 block of 10th Street, said she remembers Benham temporarily caring for three boys between the ages of 11 and 14 during a three-year period before Benham was arrested in June 2004 for the Maryland offenses.

Grunder said she did not witness anything suspicious about Benham's activities during the four years she has lived there.

A mother of 3- and 5-year-old boys, Grunder said she's not worried about Behnam's potential return to Lincoln.

"I'm not afraid for my children because my children will not have any contact with (Benham)," she said.

Benham was sentenced to serve two 10-year concurrent prison terms for the Maryland convictions, but served the equivalent of only 18 months after the majority of the term was suspended.

A DCFS spokesperson was unavailable today to discuss the department's policies regarding respite care and Benham's role as a local care provider.


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