Accused Naperville Pastor Proclaims Innocence

Chicago Sun-Times [Illinois]
May 3, 2006

During weekend services at Holy Spirit Catholic Community, the Rev. Richard Bennett, church pastor, denied the abuse allegations detailed in a lawsuit filed last week.

"Father Bennett did not celebrate Mass, but what he did do was read a statement from the altar which categorically denied making any sexual advances toward this young man," said a parishioner from Naperville who attended one of the weekend Masses.

On Thursday, an Arizona man filed a lawsuit claiming two priests in the Joliet Diocese sexually abused him beginning when he was 11 years old in 1975. Tim Greco, 43, said in the suit that he was in a shower with the Rev. Philip Dedera in the rectory at St. Pius X Church in Lombard when Bennett walked in and discovered the priest and boy naked together. Greco alleges that Dedera repeatedly abused him for more than a year and that Bennett molested him once.

Dedera was removed from ministry in 2002 because of a credible allegation made against him, the diocese said.

Over the weekend, Bennett, whose church duties and activities have been restricted for the time being, addressed parishioners during Mass. Bennett could not comment on the suit, said Cynthia Lamb, communications director at the church.

"He spoke at Masses and said he's totally innocent," said parishioner Donna Stake of Naperville. "Anybody who knows Father Dick and knows his philosophy would understand that he believes in helping the poor, the poorer and all the social justice issues. We stand behind him."

During weekend Masses David Dahler, Pastoral Council president, read a statement from the church.

"Holy Spirit Catholic Community is saddened by the news that Father Dick Bennett has been named in a civil lawsuit this past week," the statement says. It is posted on Holy Spirit's Web site. "The allegation made against Father Dick was previously processed in accordance with the Diocese of Joliet's current policies and it was determined through the review board that the allegation was neither credible nor substantiated."

According to a statement from the Joliet Diocese, it notified the DuPage County state's attorney's office in 2004 after receiving an allegation of sexual abuse against Bennett.

"Through his attorney, the accuser was invited to present his allegation to the Joliet Diocesan Review Committee, or to provide additional information," the diocese statement says. "The attorney did not respond to the invitation and no further information from the accuser was provided."

As required by diocese policy, the Review Committee conducted "a thorough investigation of the available facts and circumstances and determined that the allegation against Father Bennett was not credible/substantiated."

The Joliet diocese said the Review Committee will convene shortly to consider the lawsuit. There have been no other allegations against Bennett.

Bennett's remarks in church were met with a standing ovation, and many in the church were visibly moved, parishioners said.

"From the long applause, I think that they are going to give him a lot of support," one parishioner said.


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