Joliet Bishop Pleads Case to Catholics

By Maureen O'Donnell
Chicago Sun-Times
February 6, 2006

By turns defensive, apologetic and beseeching, Diocese of Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch pleaded his case in a letter to churchgoers that was read from pulpits Sunday.

Imesch's handling of reports of sexual misconduct by priests prompted him to write to worshippers, who said they were relieved to hear him respond but still gave his message mixed reviews.

Imesch's letter started out: "I deeply regret the pain and embarrassment that you have experienced from the media reports these past days."

'I became a priest because I care'

He was referring to the release of a deposition in which he admitted not removing priests despite credible abuse allegations against them, and acknowledged he knew about reports that the Rev. Larry Gibbs went skinny-dipping with boys and played naked games with them. After he saw a psychiatrist, Gibbs was moved from Lombard to Lockport, where he was later accused of abuse.

Imesch said his response should be viewed in context. Most of the cases occurred decades ago, he said, "before psychologists recognized that behavior ... was indicative of a severe problem that could not be adequately treated. ... I would never have returned a priest into ministry if I had not been assured by professional therapists that he was ready to return."

"The media reports tend to portray me as someone who doesn't care about the safety of children. Nothing could be further from the truth. I became a priest because I care," Imesch said.

"It was something that needed to be said because, obviously, it was mishandled," said Barbara Karwoski, 40, a mother of five, who listened as his letter was read from the pulpit at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Naperville.

Patricia Stading, a Naperville retiree and former schoolteacher, said, "I like it, but I think he should have accepted more responsibility."

"The majority of priests are good guys," said the Rev. Mark Cote, associate pastor at St. Thomas. "It hurts us just as much as it does anyone else."

Cote, who was ordained only 18 months ago, said his seminary class was told: "Your generation is going to be the generation to rebuild trust."

Priest's removal explained

Also Sunday, another letter about clergy sexual misconduct allegations -- this one from the Archdiocese of Chicago -- was read at churches served by the Rev. Joseph Bennett, according to archdiocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer.

Cardinal Francis George removed Bennett from South Holland's Holy Ghost parish last week, pending an investigation. Two women now in their 40s have reported Bennett, now 65, abused them in the 1960s at Chicago's St. John de la Salle parish.

The letter about Bennett, from Bishop Joseph Perry, explained his removal, expressed regret and urged anyone with additional information to contact prosecutors or the archdiocese.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.