Pastor Conducts First Mass After Sexual Abuse Allegations Dropped

Journal & Topics [Des Plaines IL]

June 28, 2023

By Noah Festenstein

After about nine months of investigation and anguish, Father John Clemens returned to the parish Sunday to hold mass, triggering the emotions of many in the sanctuary. A few days earlier, Clemens learned that sexual abuse allegations against him had been dropped.

Last September, Our Lady of Hope Catholic Mission in Rosemont received notice from the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago alleging that Clemens had sexually abused a minor. The allegations dated back approximately 50 years. The church serves residents of Rosemont, Des Plaines and even travelers on layover from nearby O’Hare Airport.

Clemens served as a pastor at Our Lady of Hope from 2008 to 2018 when he retired. He still serves as pastor emeritus for the mission when needed. The mission said in a written statement that the Archdiocese Independent Review Board, assisted by its Office of Child Abuse Investiagation and Review and outside investigators, “conducted a thorough review of the allegation.” When the accusation surfaced, Clemens was placed on a leave of absence until further notice.

A June 20 statement from Our Lady of Hope says the review “determined that there is not a reasonable cause to believe Father Clemens sexually abused a minor. In addition, the board recommended that the file be closed and Father Clemens be returned to ministry.”

Five days after the release, Clemens celebrated his first mass since September. “It was a wonderful experience,” he told the Journal & Topics this week. “Everything was joyful. People were very happy.”

Clemens said he got emotional during certain prayers. “The one part I got emotional about was the part of mass to pray for those who have died, and I thought of my parents. They would have been very happy to be there.”

As a result of Clemens’ absence, Our Lady of Hope thanked the community in a statement for “the great patience you and Father Clemens have shown in this moment of trial… Father Clemens supports the need for us as a church to keep our word that the safety of children remains our priority.”

Moving forward, Clemens said he will attend masses on a regular basis. “I was very nervous at the beginning, but people were very accepting and it kept me going,” he said. “I had a lot of time to reflect personally on my ministry and who I was during that time.

“Taking that time to reflect, I think I’m going to be better for it — a better minister and being able to reflect my talents and my own place in the church and what it meant for me. I think I am going to be better prepared to help people who are in dark places in their lives.”

In a letter to parishioners and priests, published in the June 25-July 2 church bulletin, Clemens wrote, “I am grateful beyond words for the constant love and prayer and support that I received from all of you.”