Bishop's Statement a Step toward Healing

The Herald News
April 14, 2002

The Diocese of Joliet took an important first step today with Bishop Joseph Imesch's pledge to protect his flock.

For a while, it seemed Imesch, leader of the seven-county Roman Catholic diocese, was protecting the wolves in sheep's clothing. He defended members of the clergy in his diocese, at least one of whom was a longtime friend, when it was revealed those people had molested children.

On Easter Sunday, we called for Imesch, and all church leaders, to stop hiding priests and other clerics involved in such abominable horrors. On Friday, Imesch released a letter, to be read at every Mass in all of the 132 parishes in the Joliet Diocese, addressing the issue.

In the letter, Imesch, in part, asked for any others who suffered abuse at the hands of clergy to come forward so the diocese could offer help to victims in terms of counseling.

Allegations will be evaluated, Imesch wrote, and when confirmed, the priest would be removed from his position and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services will be notified as necessary.

We would hope all this does indeed happen. But we also wonder why these guidelines, adopted by the Council of Catholic Bishops in 1992, have not been followed until now.

We also wonder if these perpetrators would have been sent to trial, possibly convicted and put on the sex offender list if they had not been priests.

Maybe this needs to be done to make sure priests, and indeed any member of the clergy who perpetrates such horrible, life-changing crimes, are held accountable. Since the most extreme cases of sex abuse involving children cannot be prosecuted more than 10 years following the incidents, however, it's unlikely any criminal action will be taken.

There is some discussion whether these offending members of the clergy have suffered enough anyway. That they have had to live with this sin on their shoulders for dozens of years and since that time may well be clear of any further wrongdoing. That would be an eloquent argument were it not for the victims who have had to live silently with the shame and guilt for the same amount of time.

How would their lives have been changed if their attackers had been held accountable at the time? How would the lives of the dozens of other children victimized by that particular priest changed if the priest had not been merely reassigned?

Some would argue that the issue is best left to the civil rather than criminal courts. That way, the victims can decide whether to forgive, and if not, how much their pain and suffering is worth. That way, any diocese that would rather protect priests than its own flock would feel the sting of dozens of large monetary settlements.

Justice should be served. The question remains whether that will happen now in the courts or later by God on Judgment Day.


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