Priest Steps down after Abuse Claims

The Associated Press, carried in Chicago Tribune
February 26, 2006,1,5216345.story?coll=chi-newslocalchicago-hed

PEORIA -- A Roman Catholic priest from central Illinois who recently was accused of sexual abuse nearly 25 years ago denies the allegation but has agreed to step down from public ministry, the Peoria diocese said.

The abuse allegedly occurred while Rev. William Virtue served in the Joliet diocese, but Peoria diocese officials provided no further details "out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved."

A spokeswoman for the Peoria diocese declined to comment further Friday. A spokesman for the Joliet diocese was at a funeral Friday and unavailable to comment, his office said.

Virtue, 57, has served in about 10 central Illinois churches since joining the Peoria diocese in 1988 and most recently was administrator of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Earlville, north of Ottawa.

A man who answered the phone Friday at St. Theresa said Virtue has left the church. Virtue does not have a listed telephone number and could not be reached for comment.

Bishop Daniel Jenky asked Virtue to step down after the abuse allegation surfaced, the Peoria diocese said in a statement Thursday. Though Virtue said he is innocent, he agreed to no longer function as a priest in any public capacity, wear clerical garb or use the title reverend or father, the statement said.

"It just hurt you so bad to hear it," said Helen Johanns, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Farmer City, where Virtue served from 2001 to 2003. "I thought he was a wonderful priest. I thought he was a very nice person."

Jenky said in the written statement that he prays daily for all victims of sexual abuse.

"I send my heartfelt apologies to all those affected and pray that our Lord will heal the wounds resulting from this abuse," Jenky said.


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