Imsech's Handling of Accused Priests to Be Made Public
By Ted Slowik
Daily Southtown [Tinley Park IL]
February 3, 2006
A DuPage County judge's ruling Thursday makes public last summer's testimony by Bishop Joseph Imesch about how Joliet Diocese officials handled some reports of clergy accused of sexual misconduct with minors.
Circuit Court Judge Stephen Culliton reversed his earlier protective order that would keep secret the bishop's Aug. 11 testimony in a deposition and other documents related to accusations against former priest Ed Stefanich, of Joliet.
"We're going to go in the opposite direction," Culliton said. "There's nothing here to lead me to the breadth of the order I signed previously."
Outside the courthouse, supporters of people sexually abused by priests said the ruling is the latest in a trend of court decisions that favor abuse victims.
"The Catholic Church has traditionally kept secrets," said Barbara Dorris, victim outreach coordinator for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "The bishops promised us openness and transparency. They promised us the safety of children would come first. If Bishop Imesch has nothing to hide, there should have been no reason to keep his deposition secret."
Culliton accepted the Chicago Tribune's argument that there was a keen public interest in learning how church officials responded to allegations of sexual abuse of minors by some priests.
"I think the rule is clear, that the burden is on the person seeking the protective order, both under the rule of law and the constitution," Tribune attorney Don Craven told the judge.
Culliton said making the documents public would not create "unreasonable annoyance or embarrassment" for the diocese. He rejected diocesan attorney James Byrne's arguments that released the documents would cause a trial in the media and would discourage people from making reports to the bishop about subjects other than sexual abuse.
"People giving depositions frequently talk about hearsay. They say things they probably shouldn't say," Byrne said.
Culliton declined to allow constitutional law attorney Marci Hamilton to plead on behalf of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, saying a private interest group didn't have the same stake in the case as a media company.
Culliton's ruling Thursday keeps in place two aspects of the protective order. The names of alleged abuse victims shall be kept confidential, and a videotape of Imesch's five-hour deposition shall remain sealed for now. Byrne said he didn't object to the deposition being videotaped because the protective order was in place at the time.
Culliton also rejected Byrne's plea to delay his ruling until the diocese had a chance to appeal.
Later Thursday, attorneys for the alleged victim made available copies of the 247-page transcript of Imesch's deposition. The alleged victim is a Glen Ellyn man in his 40s who claims he recently recalled repressed memories of sexual abuse by Stefanich while at Christ the King parish in Lombard about 35 years ago.
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