How to Deal with Claims of Sex Abuse
Joliet Diocese policy under review after cases around U.S.
By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
March 26, 2002
JOLIET — Diocese of Joliet officials are taking a low-key approach to the increasing publicity about priests involved in cases of sexual abuse.
Some priests took time in their sermons Sunday to talk about the issue or commented in parish bulletins about the topic, but there was no directive from diocese officials about how the matter should be addressed. The diocese is, however, reviewing its policy regarding allegations of abuse against one of its priests or staff members, said Sister Judith Davies, chancellor.
"We don't disclose names," Davies said. "All people of the diocese who have cause to suspect an incident of sexual misconduct have a moral obligation to report the incident or allegation."
In the last 10 years, at least three priests in the Joliet Diocese have faced criminal charges involving sexual abuse, and the diocese has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to victims to settle some civil cases. Some of the accusations against priests turned out to be unfounded.
"In some of those cases (the victims) think the church will give them money to keep them quiet," said the Rev. Chris Groh, pastor of St. Mary Nativity Church in Joliet.
Groh said recent weeks have been "a real difficult time" for all priests. He wrote in St. Mary's Sunday bulletin that, "Good priests, too, have been victimized by media which paints with a wide brush — leaving readers with many insinuations and ill perceptions." The Most Rev. Roger Kaffer, auxiliary bishop of the Joliet Diocese, remarked briefly about clergy abuse during Sunday's 10:30 a.m. Mass at the Cathedral of St. Raymond. Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch last week declined a request for an interview and had no comment on the topic, Davies said.
Imesch and Cardinal Francis George, head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, did address the issue in Joliet last week when James E. Fitzgerald was ordained auxiliary bishop of the Joliet Diocese. A small group carried signs outside the cathedral protesting the participation in the ceremony by the Rev. Daniel Ryan, a former auxiliary bishop of the Joliet Diocese.
Ryan resigned as bishop of the Springfield Diocese in 1999 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, although he never publicly admitted any wrongdoing.
Some think Joliet diocesan officials should do more to acknowledge and disclose information about sexual abuse cases.
"If Imesch wants to do something positive he should release the names (of priests involved in sexual abuse cases.) If they do that, that will prove they're sincere. If not, it proves they have something to hide," said Steven Brady, president of Roman Catholic Faithful, a group based in downstate Petersburg.
Earlier this month, Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston Archdiocese apologized and turned over to prosecutors the names of more than 80 current and former priests suspected of child abuse over the past 50 years. Law acknowledged that he moved former priest John Geoghan from parish to parish despite years of evidence that Geoghan was a threat to children.
A similar case came to light in the Joliet Diocese nine years ago and involved then-priest the Rev. Lawrence M. Gibbs. Gibbs was ordained in 1973 and served at several parishes, including St. Ambrose in Crest Hill, St. Joseph in Lockport, St. Mary Immaculate in Plainfield and St. Joseph in Rockdale.
Lombard police first investigated Gibbs for sexual abuse of boys in 1980, but diocesan officials did not remove him from positions of authority until a civil suit was filed by Joliet attorney Keith M. Aeschliman in 1993. Aeschliman said he's talked with about 100 others who said they were abused by Gibbs when they were boys.
"The reason no criminal charges were filed is because none of the kids came forward before the statute of limitations ran out (which is) three years after they reach age 18," Aeschliman said Monday.
The Joliet attorney has talked recently with additional victims who say they were sexually abused by priests in the Joliet diocese, he said. Some have come forward since the clergy abuse scandal began attracting worldwide attention.
"The authorities and other parishioners are more likely to believe abuse occurred, but I still don't think it's any easier for the child victims to come forward," Aeschliman said.
But the media attention is prompting other victims to disclose past abuse. Last week, former White Sox player and radio broadcaster Tom Paciorek said he and three of his brothers were abused in the 1960s by a priest who was removed as pastor of a Michigan church only last week after a scandal surfaced.
In addition to Gibbs, other Joliet Diocese priests involved in sexual abuse cases include:
• The Rev. John Furdek, who was pastor of St. Alexander Church in Villa Park in 2000 when Wisconsin authorities accused him of attempting to arrange a sexual encounter with a police investigator posing as 14-year-old boy. The case against Furdek, which also involved drug charges, is still pending the outcome of an appeal, a Racine County Circuit Court spokesman said Monday.
• The Rev. Miles White, who once served at St. Joseph's in Manhattan and St. Boniface in Monee, was charged by Indiana authorities in 1992 after police recovered a pornographic videotape showing White and a 14- or 15-year-old boy engaged in sexual activity.
• An unnamed priest was involved in a sexual relationship with an underage female in the mid-1980s. The diocese settled the case for $450,000, then sued its insurance company seeking reimbursement for the payouts.
Despite increasing publicity, only a small percentage of priests have ever faced allegations of sexual abuse. In the early 1990s the Archdiocese of Chicago undertook an exhaustive study of every priest who had served in the archdiocese over the previous 40 years. Of more than 2,200 individuals investigated, the survey found that about 40 priests, or 1.8 percent, were likely guilty of misconduct with minors at some point in their careers.
"Much of what the media is picking up now are things that hit the Midwest 10 or 15 years ago. It's just now hitting the East Coast," Groh said.
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