Chicago Archdiocese Removes 2 Priests
Cases Likely to Test Abuse Tribunals
By Julia Lieblich, Shia Kapos and Lynette Kalsnes
January 5, 2003
For the first time since the Vatican approved a new sex-abuse policy for the U.S. church, the Archdiocese of Chicago has removed two priests from ministry for sexual misconduct.
Auxiliary Bishop Jerome Listecki told 200 parishioners attending Saturday mass at St. Joseph Parish in Round Lake the news many had expected: The archdiocese was removing its pastor, Rev. Raymond Skriba, six months after its review board found "reasonable cause" to suspect him of sexually abusing teenage girls in the 1960s.
Skriba, 70, who had served as pastor at St. Joseph since 1984, asked for and was granted administrative leave in July to fight accusations that he molested two girls when he was an associate pastor of St. Gertrude Parish in Franklin Park.
Also Saturday, about 400 parishioners at Queen of the Rosary Church in Elk Grove Village learned that their associate pastor, Rev. John A. Robinson, 57, was being removed for engaging in "sexual misconduct nearly 30 years ago" with a male teenager.
The latest cases have challenged the archdiocese's ability to investigate thoroughly and remove quickly priests accused of abuse--and will probably test the network of U.S. church tribunals being created to pass final judgment on such cases in response to a painful abuse scandal.
Survivors groups have protested Cardinal Francis George's decision not to remove Skriba from ministry sooner.
"Archdiocesan leaders owe Chicago-area Catholics a clear and honest explanation of why this process took so long and why youngsters were left at risk for months and months," David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said in a statement Saturday.
Although the review board had found "reasonable cause" to suspect Skriba of abuse, the cardinal had said fairness required him to call for a "second-stage" examination of the allegations given Skriba's denials and differing accounts of what happened.
An accuser of Skriba's, who asked not to be identified, said Saturday that she supported the cardinal's decision given Skriba's protests, though she felt the investigation should not have taken 251 days. She attributed the delay to administrative problems, not lack of concern, and said George has shown increasing sensitivity.
"I really do think he's getting a better understanding of what victims go through," she said. "He told me he was sorry for the evil that had happened to me. That meant a lot to me because I'll never get an apology from Skriba."
Still, Saturday's news brought her little joy.
"It's difficult to feel good about the downfall of someone else," she said. "But his continued denying and lying about it says I did the right thing."
Parishioners at St. Joseph responded with a mix of relief that the waiting was over and despair over the loss of their pastor.
"Many in this parish don't believe it," said David Held. "He was a good priest."
But Dave Bresemann was grateful for an answer. "I want closure," he said. "I want the parish to move on because this has hurt the community."
Representatives of the archdiocese's victims assistance ministry were on hand at the church to talk about the healing process.
Members of Queen of the Rosary Church reacted with shock and tears as they learned one of their priests had been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor nearly 30 years ago while serving at St. Priscilla Parish in Chicago.
Several parishioners bowed their heads and a few audibly asked "What?" in disbelief as Rev. Bill Zavaski of St. James Catholic Church in Arlington Heights read a letter from Listecki announcing the decision.
Church usher Gene Chovanec, 72, said he did not believe the allegations, describing Robinson as a "happy-go-lucky" and dedicated priest who was good with children.
"I know Father," he said. "I've seen him with the children."
Robinson moderated the high school youth group, said another Elk Grove Village parishioner who was surprised by the news.
"I am totally shocked," she said. "I think he's one of the greatest men I ever met. ... I have so much sympathy for him."
Robinson also had a second-stage review before he was removed, according to the archdiocese.
Under the new national priest sex abuse policy, when a priest is removed from ministry the bishop notifies the Vatican's Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation decides whether to send the case to a canonical court.
If the tribunal finds the priest guilty, he is permanently removed from the ministry and, in some cases, the priesthood.
"Skriba has the due process afforded him," Listecki said Saturday. "He can take it to a canonical court now."
Jimmy Lago, the archdiocesan chancellor, has said he wanted to wait until the Skriba case was resolved before releasing a long-awaited report on priest sex abuse in the Chicago archdiocese since 1992.
Skriba had served as assistant pastor at Queen of the Universe in Chicago from 1957-62, at St. Gertrude in Franklin Park from 1962-67, at St. Walter in Chicago from 1967-70, at St. Joseph in Round Lake from 1970-76 and at Immaculate Conception in Waukegan from 1976-84.
Robinson had served as assistant pastor at St. Clotide in Chicago from 1971-72 and as an associate pastor at St. Priscilla in Chicago from 1973-79, St. Emily in Mt. Prospect in 1979, St. Damian in Oak Forest from 1979-87 and St. Edward in Chicago from 1987-94.
Parishioners at both churches were informed that the archdiocese had reported the abuse allegations to the Cook and Lake County state's attorney's offices. People with additional information can contact their parish administrator or the state's attorneys.
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