Bishop Says Priest Must Repay $40,000
Another Told to Take Leave of Absence

By Dave Bakke
Journal Register [Springfield IL]
September 9, 2005

Bishop George Lucas, leader of the Springfield Catholic diocese, held parish meetings on successive nights this week to address allegations against two priests.

On Wednesday in Newton, which is southeast of Effingham, he discussed the results of an audit of parish finances at St. Thomas The Apostle Church. The audit will result in the pastor, the Rev. Barry Harmon, reimbursing the diocese for approximately $40,000 that was misspent, plus the cost of the $8,000 audit.

Then in Springfield Thursday, the bishop told parishioners of St. Agnes Church that their newly ordained assistant pastor, the Rev. Joseph Havrilka, is going on an indefinite leave of absence for "psychological and personal issues." Lucas told more than 100 parishioners that Havrilka was not accused of sexual abuse of a minor but that he could not be more specific.

After spending more than 20 years as a religious brother, Havrilka, 48, was just ordained as a priest May 28. Assisting St. Agnes' pastor, the Rev. Bob Jallas, was his first assignment.

Lucas said a parishioner had told Jallas about concerns regarding Havrilka's behavior. Shortly after July 13, Jallas informed the bishop, who in turn informed former U.S. Attorney Bill Roberts, whom the bishop has appointed to investigate reports of priestly misconduct.

Lucas said Havrilka cooperated with Roberts' subsequent investigation, and enough evidence of inappropriate behavior was found to warrant further action.

Last weekend's parish bulletin contained a note from Lucas saying that Havrilka, who had already been on leave for several weeks, would be leaving to deal with, according to the bishop, "personal and psychological issues of which I was unaware when I assigned him to St. Agnes Parish earlier this summer."

The wording was almost identical to a May announcement at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Springfield regarding its then-new pastor, the Rev. Donald Blickhan, who remains on leave due to "personal and psychological issues." Lucas said then that he was not aware of those issues when he assigned Blickhan to Blessed Sacrament.

Havrilka, a native of Christian County, is the third local priest this year to be put on a leave of absence for physical and emotional rehabilitation and counseling. The Rev. Kenneth Steffen of St. James Church in Riverton and St. Katherine Drexel Church in Springfield went on indefinite leave in February. Blickhan was placed on leave in May.

The diocese's then-chancellor, the Rev. Eugene Costa, has been on leave since December for what was termed "inappropriate and risky behavior" after Costa was found beaten nearly to death in Douglas Park in Springfield just before Christmas. Harmon has been a priest since 1990. He was an assistant in two Springfield parishes, Christ the King and St. Aloysius, in the 1990s. Following that, he was pastor in Carrollton, White Hall, Greenfield and Hagaman before becoming pastor of the parish in Newton as well as St. Mary of the Assumption in Ste. Marie, in 2002.

Allegations of financial trouble at the Newton church have been flaring since at least January, when parish trustee Mary Jane Bierman was fired by Harmon. She subsequently went public with charges of mismanagement of parish funds by Harmon, leading to the audit and Wednesday's parish meeting.

Bierman said Thursday she feels vindicated by the audit and noted that a more stringent oversight of parish funds has been put in place.

"Father Barry said he was sorry he had caused some pain in our lives," she said. "He walked out into the audience to give me a hug and asked for my forgiveness. I got up and did that, then asked him for the mike. I said I wanted to tell him something that I had never been given the opportunity to say - that friends don't let friends mismanage parish funds."

One member of the audience of approximately 200 noted that Harmon drives a Mercedes sports utility vehicle and said that was inappropriate, especially while an examination of his handling of parish spending was under way.

Diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass said there is no evidence of criminal activity at the Newton parish.

"Everything was in the books and accounted for," she said, "but it was more a matter of bad judgment and mismanagement rather than any kind of criminal activity."

Both Bierman and Louis Ochs, a lifelong member of the Newton parish who attended Wednesday's meeting, said the problem appears to be poor record-keeping and extravagant spending by Harmon and a lack of proper receipts for those expenditures. Ochs added that even though he believes Harmon is a good priest in some aspects, it would be in everyone's best interest if St. Thomas were assigned a new pastor. Lucas gave no indication at Wednesday's meeting that any change is under consideration in Newton.

Rita Kocher, chairwoman of the parish's finance council, declined to comment on the meeting or the results of the audit.

Sass said Roberts had been made aware of the audit's findings.

Dave Bakke can be reached at 788-1541