For Priest, Abuse Case Hits Home
Rev. Michael Knotek Stands by His Brother George, Who Says He Was Abused by a Priest As a Teen and Has Sued the Joliet Diocese

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune
April 30, 2006

On a recent Sunday, Rev. Michael Knotek asked parishioners in his Far South Side sanctuary to bow their heads and call to mind the greatest cross they had to bear.

As they obeyed, Knotek also hung his head and meditated on the burden he has carried for 31 years: the knowledge that his older brother was molested by a priest and his belief that his church tried to cover it up.

As a teen, George Knotek considered the priesthood but gave up the idea after he was molested, he said.

"If we're careful, by God's grace, that very cross becomes our salvation," said the pastor of St. John De La Salle Catholic Church, echoing the message of redemption that forms the foundation of the Christian faith.

For some priests in the Chicago archdiocese, the Roman collar has been a yoke in recent months as abuse allegations mount against their colleague, Rev. Daniel McCormack. But for Knotek, 49, the sorrow is amplified by anger over how the church, particularly the neighboring Diocese of Joliet, has treated his family.

He recalls the night in 1975 when his older brother, George, confessed that their parish priest, Rev. Donald Pock, had fondled him after George sought counsel as a teen about his own calling to the clergy. Later that year, as a young seminarian, Michael Knotek decided to report the offense to the church hierarchy. He said he was told to stay quiet.

George Knotek sued the Joliet diocese in February and demanded the release of a list of all accused priests. Tribune photo by Chuck Berman.

In February, George Knotek, 52, made the matter public when he sued the Joliet diocese, demanding the release of a list of all accused priests, dead or alive, along with documentation of the complaints against them. The diocese has refused for years to disclose the names. A similar lawsuit was filed in January against the Chicago archdiocese, which released 55 names last month.

Despite the Joliet diocese's release this month of 22 names--including Pock, who was removed from ministry in 2002 and died in 2004--George Knotek is pressing for a more detailed list. His brother backs him 100 percent.

"It's just a justice issue," Michael Knotek said. "There can't be any more secrets. In conscience, I cannot give this up."

George and Michael Knotek were devout Czech Catholic sons who wanted to make their parents proud by becoming priests. Their grandmother had taught them to pray the rosary, and their parents stretched a blue-collar budget to send four of their five children to Catholic school. In the Joliet diocese, both brothers served as altar boys at Divine Savior Catholic Church in Downers Grove.

Rev. Michael Knotek says mass at St. John De La Salle Church. Knotek initially gave up on the priesthood after his brother revealed to him that he had been molested by a priest. Tribune photo by Chuck Berman.

So the night 16-year-old George Knotek made an appointment to seek counsel from Pock at the rectory was a moment both brothers eagerly anticipated, a rite of passage that could potentially propel him toward the priesthood. But George Knotek also had fallen in love, so he needed the advice of a priest to help him decide between the girl and God.

"I was happy for him, and I was happy for me because in a few years it would be my turn," Michael Knotek said.

But when the teen arrived at the rectory and presented his case, he recalled, Pock called his mother to suggest her son spend the night, then poured him a bourbon and soda over a tall glass of ice. Each time the conversation paused, the priest topped off the drink with liquor, he said.

George Knotek said Pock fondled and attempted to sexually assault him throughout the night. At dawn, he locked himself in the bathroom until he heard his mother arrive to pick him up for school, he said.

"He was very upset the next day. He didn't talk about that anymore," Michael Knotek said, remembering when his brother returned home.

Two years later, as Michael Knotek sat at the kitchen table filling out his seminary application, his brother took a seat and began to explain why he had abandoned his dream of becoming a priest.

The revelation weighed on Knotek as a freshman at St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul. He broached the subject with his spiritual director, who encouraged him to contact Joliet Bishop Romeo Blanchette.

With his brother's permission, Michael Knotek met with an auxiliary bishop during spring break from the seminary. The bishop told him to keep quiet, he said.

"There's a certain sinking feeling in my stomach that started that day, that returns occasionally," Michael Knotek said. "Later I found words to describe it: intimidation, coercion, being shut down. ... To the day I die, I can't forgive myself for not having called the police. That would have made all the difference in the world."

George Knotek later joined his brother for four more fruitless meetings with the auxiliary bishop, including one at which Pock was present. The brothers also took a friend as a witness.

All along, Michael Knotek never doubted that his brother was telling the truth. The tense encounters cast doubt on his own priestly pursuits, and he left the seminary soon afterward. A year later, he was denied readmission. He joined a religious order but was confronted with doubt again after several years.

After two jobs at Catholic universities, he enrolled at Mundelein Seminary. In 1996, at age 39, he was ordained.

"The incidence of pedophilia is very troublesome to me, and the other dysfunctions," Knotek told the Tribune at the time. "But one thing that has never wavered from childhood was the feeling that I wanted to be a priest. There is still a great need and wonderful support for priests. It was the answer to a lot of searching and prayer."

In December 2002, shortly after the bishops drafted national guidelines for handling the clergy sex abuse crisis, Michael Knotek urged his brother to ask Chicago Cardinal Francis George to intercede in his case.

In a letter, George Knotek, now a development director for a non-profit publishing company, told the cardinal he wanted the Joliet diocese to clarify how many other children had accused Pock of abuse. He wanted the diocese to compensate him for counseling, and he wanted an apology for the way he and his brother had been treated.

He also wanted to feel safe introducing his son and daughter to the Catholic Church.

"Without some remedy and resolution from the Catholic Church, as their father I cannot in good conscience introduce them to an institution that has exploited me and has thus far rejected my attempts to heal our shared tragedy," he wrote.

Michael Knotek hand-delivered his brother's letter to his boss. The cardinal wrote back and apparently conveyed his concerns to Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch.

Days later, Michael Knotek got a telephone call from Imesch. Name a parish and he would make him pastor, Knotek said the bishop told him. Knotek declined the offer.

The diocese has no record that such a conversation took place, spokesman Tom Kerber said.

"To this day, I have this moral dilemma going on within me about this church I love," Michael Knotek said. "I think the cross is probably going to get heavier."

Those words assure George Knotek that his brother is still on his side. He has feared that the offer of plum assignments would persuade his brother to drop the issue.

"To have my brother put his own reputation in jeopardy by stepping forward and supporting me in this civil suit eliminates all those doubts," he said.

That his brother has been able to fulfill their dream of being a priest is a miracle and a blessing, he said. "My brother is one of the finest men I've ever had the good fortune to know and spend a life with. I think that priests like my brother are victims of this tragedy."


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