DIOCESE OF PEORIA IL
Diocese releases figures on clergy sexual misconduct
The diocesan statement, issued on Monday in advance of the release of the John Jay Institute findings regarding "the nature and scope" of the clerical abuse of minors in the U.S., also revealed that the Diocese of Peoria has paid slightly more than $900,000 out in settlements.
The majority of the settlement funds came from an insurance carrier under the diocese's umbrella liability coverage, the statement said, with the remainder from diocesan capital gains.
"No funds from the Annual Diocesan Appeal were used to pay settlements of lawsuits," the diocese stressed.
In his own response released with the diocesan statement, Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, began by again offering "my sincere apology to anyone abused by someone associated with the church." But he emphasized that "the priests who serve in this wonderful diocese are good and holy men," and asked all Catholics to extend to them prayers and encouragement.
While acknowledging that "we cannot undo what has been done in the past," the bishop said "we can do everything in our power to ensure that no child suffers the horror of child abuse again in Central Illinois, or anywhere else in that country."
To that end, the diocesan statement listed nine actions the Diocese of Peoria has taken since the establishment of the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" was adopted by the U.S. bishops in June of 2002. The statement noted the diocese has established, distributed, or implemented:
* a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for priests, deacons, teachers,
employees and volunteers who are in regular contact with children;
Unfortunately we cannot undo what has been done in the past, but we can do everything in our power to ensure that no child suffers the horror of child abuse again in Central Illinois, or anywhere else in the country.
I would also like to stress that I am not pessimistic about our Church's current understanding of this problem or the way in which it is now being addressed. Years ago, bishops together with just about everyone, including school boards, lawyers, judges, the police, psychiatrists and certainly most parents, knew very little about the pathology of sexual abuse. We now know that sexual misconduct with minors happens widely (to at least one in four girls and to at least one in eight boys) and in a variety of circumstances. The vast majority of sexual abuse of those under the age of 18 actually takes place in the home and is most often inflicted by a relative, but this horrific evil also takes place in schools, on sports teams, in professional offices, and sadly in churches and synagogues.
All available research indicates that there is no greater incidence of sexual misconduct within the Catholic community and its priesthood than in other faith communities. I do not say this to in anyway excuse what is always and absolutely inexcusable, but only to place the problems afflicting our Church in context.
I would say that the Catholic Church today is perhaps better prepared than almost any other institution in America to face whatever needs to be faced, to learn from our past mistakes, and to do a much better job in the future to protect all of God's children.
The priests who serve in this wonderful Diocese are good and holy men. I sincerely ask all Catholics in the Diocese to extend their support to our priests by offering their prayers and encouragement to them during this difficult time.
Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky, CSC
By Michael Miller
The diocese didn't name the priests, but said five of the 14 are dead. Spokeswoman Kate Kenny cited legal reasons and consideration of the dead priests' families for not releasing names.
Diocesan priests who have been publicly removed from ministry because of accusations of sexual misconduct are former Lincoln monsignor Norman Goodman, Francis Engels, William Harbert, Walter Breuning, Edward Bush, Robert Creager, , Richard Slavish, Gregory Plunkett, John Anderson and Michael Van Acker. Harbert is dead.
Kenny said accusations weren't made against some priests until they already were dead.
The statement made available this weekend at Masses throughout the 26-county diocese, which includes Logan County, also said that the diocese has paid out $900,000 in legal settlements related to sexual abuse of minors. That money came from insurance carriers and diocesan capital gains, it said.
The information is from a survey the diocese completed for a nationwide study on "the nature and scope" of sexual abuse of minors committed by Catholic clergy since 1950.
The John Jay Institute national report will be released Friday. However, several dioceses, now including Peoria, have released their own numbers early.
The Associated Press reported Feb. 10 that a little under half the dioceses in the nation offering numbers had reported accusations being made against 1,341 clergy members.
The number of accused Peoria diocesan priests was not surprising, Kenny said. Much of the research that was used for the survey had already been done on Bishop Daniel Jenky's orders soon after he was installed here in spring 2002, she said.
The number of accused diocesan priests since 1950 comes to about 0.02 percent of the approximately 700 who have served as diocesan priests in that time frame, according to the diocesan statement.
The total of 14 doesn't include priests not directly under the diocese's authority, such as religious order priests or those on assignment from other dioceses, Kenny said. For instance, accusations were made against the Rev. Toussaint J. Perron, a member of Missionaries of Africa order, in the 1990s when he was a priest in Bureau County.
Kenny said that, according to Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, vicar general of the diocese, the number of sex-abuse victims would not be released because it would only be an estimate and may turn out to be misleading.
Rohlfs also said that estimated numbers of incidents, time frames of abuse and ages of victims would not be released by the diocese.
"It could be misleading," Rohlfs said. "Our statement has now been released and that is our statement. Anything else would be prurient interest."
The monsignor said that nothing was found during the research process to indicate that any cases were handled incorrectly after they came to diocesan officials' attention. All cases were acted on promptly, he said.
Rohlfs also said he didn't know how much money has been spent by the diocese on legal fees related to sex-abuses cases since they are covered by insurance. He also said the diocese hasn't kept track of money spent on counseling for victims.
Kenny said she thought Jenky released the numbers early "to get it out in the open so it doesn't look like we're being reactionary" when the national report comes out Friday. He also "wanted Catholics in the pews to see it first," she said.
Barbara Blaine of Chicago, founder and president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said she's "skeptical" of the numbers being released in the study.
"It's really important to highlight the fact that this is a voluntary self-survey," she said Sunday. "I think that prudence and common sense tell us that we have to be skeptical of these numbers. These numbers are taken from a self-survey that the bishops themselves filled out and turned in. It's not based on any type of empirical study or investigation."
The diocese, however, said in its statement that "there may be cases of misconduct about which the diocese knows nothing."
In the statement, Jenky once again extended "my sincere apology to anyone abused by someone associated with the (Catholic) Church."
He also said: "All available research indicates that there is no greater incidence of sexual misconduct within the Catholic community and its priesthood than in other faith communities. I do not say this to in any way excuse what is always and absolutely inexcusable, but only to place the problems afflicting our church in context."
The diocese currently faces two lawsuits related to sexual misconduct by priests. One is a defamation suit brought by priest Bush. The other is by Daniel Koenigs, who also is suing Engels, Harbert and Plunkett.
Peoria diocese: 14 priests accused of sexual misconduct
The 26-county diocese participated in the John Jay Institute's research study. Release of the study's full report to the public is expected Friday.
In a statement issued Monday, the diocese said about 700 priests have served since 1950.
``To our knowledge, the total number of our diocesan priests accused of sexual misconduct with a minor over the past 50 years is 14,'' the statement said. ``Of that number, five are deceased.''
When Bishop Janiel R. Jenky was installed in April 2002, he said eight priests were asked to step down from public ministry because of ``credible'' allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
Sue Archibald, president of The Linkup, a 3,000-member international group of sexual-abuse survivors, family members and professionals, doesn't necessarily consider the diocese's estimate of abusive priests accurate.
``Every bishop should have that number written in pencil and not in pen,'' Ms. Archibald said Monday. ``The way I'm seeing things is the number of victims out there is really hard to determine. More people are coming forward.''
In the statement, Bishop Jenky responded to the yet-to-be-released John Jay report.
``Let me once again extend my sincere apology to anyone abused by someone associated with the Church,'' Bishop Jenky said. ``Unfortunately, we cannot undo what has been done in the past, but we can do everything in our power to ensure that no child suffers the horror of child abuse again in Central Illinois or anywhere else in the country.''
Since the bishop arrived in Peoria, the diocese has set several guidelines, including a code of conduct for priests, deacons, teachers, employees and volunteers in regular contact with children.
Joseph Klest, a Chicago attorney who has represented about 100 people in clerical sexual-abuse cases, said he couldn't estimate how many children were victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
``I have no way of knowing,'' he said. ``I've probably, in addition to the 100 (abuse victims) I've represented, spoken with 300 to 400 victims of clergy sexual abuse.
``Of those, perhaps two or three were making false allegations. But false allegations of this nature are almost non-existent. It's not something someone readily admits to.''
Mr. Klest is representing former Cambridge resident Dan Koenigs, who filed a 10-count lawsuit seeking more than $1 million this month against the diocese.
He accused former priests Francis Engels, Gregory Plunkett and the late William ``Bill'' Harbert, who served in parishes in the Quad-Cities region, of abusing him several times a month as a child.
Kate Kenny, the Peoria diocese director of communications, did not return a call Monday seeking more comment on the statement.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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