From ‘playboy’ to child abuser: Texas priest infamous for time at Illinois retreat

The Journal Star [Peoria IL]

June 1, 2023

By Leslie Renken

A priest with the Diocese of Dallas, Texas, Kenneth J. Roberts came in contact with children from Illinois through his role as a retreat leader for the Diocese of Peoria.

Three people from Illinois have come forward to allege abuse at the hands of Roberts in the 1980s, according to a report on abusive priests compiled by the office of the Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul.

Roberts was a minor celebrity for penning a biography, “Playboy to Priest,” in 1975. He claimed to have left behind a life as a jet-setting playboy when he was ordained in 1966. 

A victim given the pseudonym “William” related a tale of abuse not only at the hands of Roberts, but also by the Diocese of Peoria after it was made aware of the abuse. 

William was in fifth or sixth grade in the 1980s when he attended a retreat called Emmaus Days at Saint Bede Abbey in Peru. Roberts was the retreat leader there, as was another priest named Samuel Pusateri, who later pleaded guilty to criminal sexual assault of a child. 

The nightmare began for William when Roberts led him out of a confessional service and into the principal’s office, where he forcibly held the struggling boy and kissed him on the mouth, according to the attorney general’s report. 

William says the abuse led to years of confusion, alcoholism, and a suicide attempt. In the early 2000s, William reported the incident to the Diocese of Peoria with the hope of finding closure. In April of 2004, the diocese offered to cover the cost of counseling, but after a short period of time, payments stopped. William had conversations with the diocese’s new chancellor, Patricia Gibson, without resolution, before taking the issue to Bishop Daniel Jenky, who confirmed that the diocese was backing out of the arrangement.  

William fought with the diocese for many years. In 2009, he thought he had finally reached an agreement when he was asked to issue a statement in return for the settlement. The diocese wanted him to say that Bishop Jenky did not renege on the initial agreement, or that there was a miscommunication. William refused to lie. Eventually the diocese dropped the request for a statement and a settlement was reached.  

Roberts retired in 1995 and was removed as a priest in 1998. He died in 2018, and the next year was officially identified as a credibly accused child sex abuser by the Catholic Church when he was placed on Catholic Church Public Lists by the Diocese of Dallas, the Diocese of Peoria, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

In 2020, the Diocese of Belleville also put him on its public list.