The Journal Star [Peoria IL]
June 1, 2023
By Leslie Renken
George Hiland was a priest at Saint Stephens Church in Streator in the mid 1960s when he started showing special attention to a seventh grader. Because the boy’s father died when the boy was 10 years old, the boy’s mother and grandmother were delighted when Father Hiland started spending time with the child.
Hiland took him to a bonfire, then for a drive where the boy got to steer while sitting in the priest’s lap. Then Hiland began fondling the boy. Later he performed oral sex on him and asked him to reciprocate, according to a report by the Illinois Attorney General.
“I hated it, but I didn’t know who to talk to,” said the boy, who was given the pseudonym “Peter” in the attorney general’s report.
Hiland instigated sex “everywhere,” said Peter – the church choir, the school cafeteria, an underground tunnel between the school and church, and even the teacher’s desk. The summer before eighth grade Hiland took Peter into the woods, stripped him naked and sprayed him head to toe with mosquito repellent before having sex. Peter was most disturbed when the pair had sex in the cemetery.
“All I could think was that my father was buried there,” he said.
Hiland rewarded Peter after each instance of abuse. He gave the boy money and drove him to a local store where he would buy plastic monster models to assemble.
“I had every single model they came out with,” Peter said.
The abuse finally came to an end after Peter graduated from eighth grade. Peter wouldn’t have to see Hiland again after he started high school. Peter started a job at a root beer stand to get away from the priest.
Hiland was removed from the ministry in 1993. At that time a memo was written describing Hiland’s abuse of a child in Streator in the 1970s, and Hiland’s admission to abusing a second child.
In 1994, Bishop John Myers wrote a letter to Hiland acknowledging his “sadness at the circumstances which have prompted you to submit your resignation as the Pastor of St. Patrick’s Paris, Dwight, and to seek retirement status in the diocese.” Myers also mentioned Hiland’s “unresolved issues which should be dealt with before you can effectively be involved in any priestly ministry,” and the “serious recommendation for counseling and therapy.” But Myers also praised Hiland: “I want to thank you for your generous and fine priestly service in the Diocese of Peoria. Literally thousands of people share this gratitude, and, I am sure, offer their prayers and best wishes to you.”
While the church acknowledged the abuse and took action internally in 1993, they didn’t report it to law enforcement until 2018, after the Attorney General began its investigation. A 1993 memo written by a church official helps explain why.
It lays out the plan of action to help keep monetary compensation for victims to a minimum: “(Cases) should be managed in a way that restricts it to counseling at a moderate fee for a reasonable amount of time. The difficulty with counseling is that it can reinforce the desire to sue for compensation in large amounts. But this is a risk the priest and diocese has to take to fulfill our own policies.”