Deposition, Suits Stun Joliet Diocese

By Dave Newbart and Dan Rozek
Chicago Sun-Times
February 5, 2006

The release of a controversial deposition from the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet, coupled with two new lawsuits against the church, is the latest blow to the troubled suburban diocese, at one time among those with the highest level of priests removed from the ministry due to allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor.

The revelations in the August deposition of Bishop Joseph Imesch -- in which he admits not removing priests even when they had credible abuse allegations against them -- have led some to wonder whether he will thoroughly investigate allegations of sexual abuse in the future.

"He did not take the steps he could have to protect the children," said Lyn Schollett, general counsel for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which had argued to make the deposition public. "We don't have any reason to think he would act any differently if faced with future accusations."

A diocese spokesman could not be reached Saturday, but last week, the church said it was "very disappointed" that the deposition was made public.

Imesch gave the deposition as part of a civil suit filed in DuPage County by a Glen Ellyn man who alleges he was molested by former priest Edward Stefanich in 1969.

In the deposition, Imesch admits that there were several priests he allowed to continue in the ministry even though he had concluded there were credible allegations of sexual abuse against them. But he said he allowed them to keep their jobs because they went through therapy.

The bishop also said he didn't remove Stefanich from his post at a church in Woodridge even after he received reports in 1985 and 1987 that the priest was dating an underage girl. Stefanich wasn't removed from the ministry until after he was later arrested by police.

In another instance, Imesch admitted being aware that a priest in Lombard, the Rev. Larry Gibbs, went swimming in the nude with pre-teen boys, and then played "boys' games" with them while naked. Still, after seeing a psychiatrist, Gibbs was transferred to another parish in Lockport. Imesch admitted he didn't alert parishioners to the priest's past, although he claims he told the pastor at the new church. Gibbs was later accused of abusing a child at the new church.

Suits accuse church leaders

Marci Hamilton, a public law professor at Yeshiva University in New York, criticized the church's attempt to keep Imesch's deposition out of public view. The move is "part of a national pattern" to "use secrecy to reduce their liability," Hamilton said.

Two new sex abuse suits were filed Thursday in Will County. Two former county residents allege church leaders didn't protect children from former priest Michael Gibbney, even though they had received previous complaints about Gibbney. The suits claim the men were molested by Gibbney between 1979 and 1981.

Last week, the Diocese of Joliet said it had not had enough time to comment on the new lawsuits.

In 2004, the diocese revealed there had been 113 credible allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor against 27 priests there since its founding in 1949.


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