‘He messed up my life’: 2 Chillicothe boys endured repeated sexual abuse by priest

The Journal Star [Peoria IL]

June 1, 2023

By Leslie Renken

Father John C. Anderson, a priest at Saint Edward Catholic Church in Chillicothe, abused at least seven children starting in the late 1970s. Two of his victims participated in the Illinois Attorney General’s investigation of abusive priests, and were given the pseudonyms, “Adam” and “Paul.” 

Adam was just 8 years old when his family moved to Chillicothe and enrolled him in the third grade at St. Edward school. Adam was one of a number of children Anderson asked to mow the church lawn and do yard work for his mother. For at least two of those children, lawn work turned into sleepovers and repeated sexual abuse, according to the Attorney General’s report.  

Adam said Anderson fondled him and masturbated while lying naked in the bed beside him. The abuse happened 30 to 45 times over the course of three or four years, and left lingering effects on Adam. 

“He messed up my life,” Adam said. “This truly ruined a young kid’s mind. And it didn’t just ruin my childhood. It also ruined my manhood as I got older… I started drinking a lot, and I think my emotions were getting to me because I had done this for so long. I called the diocese to let it all out.” 

Adam was dumbfounded when he was told that the diocese knew Anderson had abused young boys like him. Their advice was that Adam should forgive.  

Paul had also recently moved to Chillicothe when he began mowing the parish lawn. The abuse followed a similar pattern to the abuse Adam suffered. During a sleepover at Anderson’s mother’s home, Paul was fondled. The abuse continued for two or three years.

One day Paul ran out of the rectory to escape Anderson. Not long after, Paul went to live with his father in Quincy to escape the abuse.  

Anderson visited Quincy at one point, where he questioned Paul to find out if he had told anyone about being abused. But Paul had told no one: “Who is going to believe me?” he said. It wasn’t until 1993 when Paul spoke of the abuse to a counselor, who reported it to the Diocese of Peoria. This led to a phone call between Paul and Bishop John Myers. 

“I was told the whole time on that phone call that I was lying, that Anderson would never do that, that he denied it. But I came to find out he was doing it to one of my best friends,” Paul remembers. “Anderson was a repeat offender; I was called a liar. When you get told that, you basically give up. If the bishop won’t believe me, who will?”  

Like Adam, Paul was dumbfounded by the Diocese’s response. 

“There was a dangerous man walking among them. And the diocese didn’t do a dang thing about it. They protected him.” 

Eventually the Diocese of Peoria did acknowledge that Paul had been abused by Anderson. Bishop Daniel Jenky, Myers’ replacement, wrote a letter to Paul’s mother in 2002. Though he apologized for the abuse and expressed sorrow and shame, he also suggested that Anderson was clever in hiding his actions and that the Diocese was unaware.  

It wasn’t until 2018, 16 years after Jenky wrote that letter, that the Diocese of Peoria reported allegations against Anderson by Paul, Adam, and five other victims to the local state attorney’s office.  

Anderson died in 2009.