Bishop Removes La Salle Priest over Sexual Accusations

By Dan Churney
My Web Times [LA Salle IL]
May 25, 2006

Citing an allegation of sexual misconduct, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria announced Wednesday he recently removed a La Salle priest from the ministry.

Bishop Daniel Jenky recently told 53-year-old the Rev. Gordon J. Pillon to step down from public ministry, said Jenky's spokeswoman, Elizabeth Smarjesse. Pillon was pastor of St. Patrick Church, St. Hyacinth Church and Holy Rosary Church since June 2003, as well as Resurrection Church since last year. All the churches are in La Salle.

Smarjesse said the allegations are that Pillon committed sexual misconduct with a minor about 25 years ago while Pillon was a priest in the Diocese of Orange in Southern California.

Smarjesse said Diocese of Peoria officials did not know of allegations against Pillon when Pillon came to the diocese in the early 1990s.

Jenky told Pillon to not function as a priest in public, to not wear clerical garb and to not use the title "reverend" or "father."

Smarjesse said Jenky told Pillon to step down after consulting with the diocese's Sexual Review Commission, which gave Jenky its opinion as to the credibility of the allegations.

Smarjesse would not provide more information, citing respect for the privacy of the victims.

"The Diocese of Orange is notorious for problematic priests. The real question is why did he come to the Peoria Diocese?" said Steve Brady, president of the Roman Catholic Faithful, a Petersburg-based watchdog group.

The Diocese of Orange has a telephone hotline for the reporting of misconduct by priests.

The Diocese of Orange could not be reached for information about Pillon.

Pillon, a native of Orange, Calif., was ordained in 1979. He served at churches in Chillicothe, Champaign, Clinton, Wapella, Farmer City and Bellflower. Pillon was also with the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., in 1996 and the campus ministry at Bradley University in Peoria.

Smarjesse said she did not know where Pillon is living. None of the La Salle churches in question could be reached for comment.

The Rev. Robert Rayson has taken over for Pillon in La Salle. The 37-year-old Rayson formerly served at churches in Bradford, Wyoming and Camp Grove.

In another matter, a lawsuit was also filed Wednesday in DuPage County Circuit Court by Tim Shanahan against 57-year-old William Virtue, former administrator at St. Theresa Church in Earlville, and against the Diocese of Joliet and the diocese's bishop, the Rev. Joseph Imesch.

Shanahan said Virtue molested him between 1978 and 1982 in the rectory and confessional of St. Mary's Church in Mokena, which falls within the Diocese of Joliet. Shanahan is in state prison for drug and driving offenses.

Shanahan's brother, Dan, is also claiming the Rev. James Burnett molested him around the same time and in the same places at St. Mary's.

The suit said Imesch knew of the allegations against Virtue and Barrett, but permitted them to transfer to other churches in the diocese and elsewhere. Imesch is set to retire June 21.

Virtue served as administrator at St. Theresa from 2005 until Jenky told him to leave the public ministry in February. Virtue had ministered previously at the Earlville church from 1996 to 1999 and at Sacred Heart Church in Granville and St. Theresa Church in Cedar Point in 1992. Virtue also had six other ministry assignments in the diocese since 1988.

Virtue, who was ordained in 1975, has denied the accusations.

DAN CHURNEY,, (815) 431-4050


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