Little Known of Diocese's Abuse Panel
Committee Formed to Look into Misconduct Has Released No Data
By Sarah Antonacci
The State Journal-Register [Springfield IL]
February 19, 2006
More than a year after creation of a committee to review allegations against priests in the Springfield Catholic Diocese, area Catholics have been told nothing about what the committee has learned.
Bishop George Lucas held a press conference on Feb. 17, 2005, announcing that former U.S. Attorney Bill Roberts would conduct a "thorough, open-minded and unbiased" probe into allegations of clergy misconduct.
Diocesan officials have not yet disclosed the number of reports against priests, whether any actions have been taken as a result, or how much the probe has cost the diocese.
"We haven't really discussed this with anybody," Roberts said last week. "We haven't talked to anyone about this, and we're not going to. That's what we've consistently done."
Steve Brady, a Petersburg Catholic who has been the most vocal critic of the diocese's actions in connection with priest misconduct, among other issues, said he sees no sign of a cover-up in Roberts' refusal to talk about the investigation.
"I have talked to (Roberts) on several occasions. I think he's a fine man," Brady said. "In those conversations, Mr. Roberts, to his credit, doesn't reveal the information he has. They can't do an honest and thorough investigation of these matters without talking to me since I, longer than anyone, has been looking into these things. I wouldn't consider it a credible investigation if they didn't."
Brady does think, however, that Lucas should be discussing what the investigation has turned up.
"To have Roberts paid at a cost to parishioners and to have no information given out is a crime," Brady said.
Lucas said results of the investigation eventually will be released - but not until Roberts finishes his work.
"It's really up to Mr. Roberts to issue a report at the time he feels it's appropriate to do so," Lucas said. "He said at the beginning of the investigation that it will take as long as it takes, or words to that effect. I'm convinced he's being very diligent in conducting the investigation, and at this point, I am satisfied with his work."
"I have no comment on the cost at this time," Lucas added. "We will let people know the cost when it's complete."
Roberts, a Methodist, was originally assisted by Ellen Lynch, general counsel for the Rockford diocese, and Charles Schmadeke, a Springfield attorney. Lynch has since bowed out.
Lucas also appointed a committee to hear allegations presented to them by Roberts. Members are: Carolyn Graham of Springfield, State Sen. William Haine, a Democrat from Alton; the Rev. Kurt Hartrich, a Franciscan priest from Quincy; Sister Joan Winkler of the Hospital Sisters Health Systems; and Sgt. Robert Sgambelluri, an Illinois State Police investigator. All are Catholic.
Lucas announced Roberts' appointment amid a flurry of accusations sparked by the brutal beating of the Rev. Eugene Costa in December 2004 in Douglas Park. Two teens eventually were sentenced to 30 months in prison for the beating. They said Costa had propositioned them as they walked through the park.
Later, the diocese released Costa from his duties and said Costa had been involved in "immoral" and "risky" behavior.
A State Journal-Register poll of Springfield Catholics conducted in March showed that 18 percent of Catholics had reduced their donations to the church, 19 percent said scandals had weakened their faith, and 44 percent rated the diocese's response to allegations of priestly misconduct "fair" or "poor."
However, Catholics also thought overwhelmingly that Lucas was doing a good job. And nearly 70 percent of the respondents said the scandals had had no effect on their faith, and 50 percent believed the diocese had handled the allegations of bad conduct by priests in an effective manner.
While Lucas would not say last week that any personnel moves or other actions he's taken were a result of the investigation, he did say he's occasionally met with Roberts.
"Mr. Roberts has been very professional and very diligent, from what I can see in terms of the investigation," he said. "Mr. Roberts and I have spoken occasionally as I share information with him or he has questions of me. I am aware it's ongoing, but I don't want to comment on any details at this point."
Roberts and the committee apparently has examined one controversy involving a priest. In July, Lucas met with about 500 members of Springfield's Blessed Sacrament Parish to tell them that their recently appointed pastor, the Rev. Donald Blickhan, had resigned due to "psychological problems and some personal issues."
Lucas told Blessed Sacrament parishioners that he had told Roberts of the problems immediately. Roberts determined that no illegal or harmful actions had taken place at the school or church since Blickhan's arrival, the bishop said.
Roberts presents his findings to the panel, which then presents the issues to Lucas and makes suggestions on how to deal with the problems, under procedures set up when Roberts was named.
David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, a St. Louis-based organization that speaks out against priestly misconduct, said no other diocese that he's aware of has initiated an investigation of the same magnitude. As a result, he said, there is nothing against which to measure how long it's taking or the way it's being handled.
However, Clohessy said, he would hope that anything of a serious nature would be released immediately. Keeping serious offenses under wraps have made people leery of the church's ability to deal with scandals across the country.
"Whether it's an abusive priest preying on a trusting youngster, or a grieving, widowed adult, sexual misconduct is wrong and harmful under any circumstances and should be addressed promptly, not kept under wraps until it's advantageous to be released for the bishop."
Anyone who wants to report an incident in the Springfield diocese is urged to call a diocesan hot line, (866) 346-2003, or to e-mail
Sarah Antonacci can be reached at 788-1529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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