Priestly Misconduct Found
Former Bishop Among Four Cited by Name
By Dave Bakke
State Journal-Register [Springfield IL]
August 3, 2006
Bishop George Lucas on Wednesday addressed allegations of priest misconduct in what he said is an effort to put the Catholic Diocese of Springfield's stormy past behind it - for himself, his priests and the more than 160,000 Catholics in the diocese.
Web extra: Read the diocese's statement.
Lucas and Springfield attorney Bill Roberts, hired 18 months ago by the diocese to head an investigation into clergy misconduct, presented the results at a news conference.
The investigation confirmed serious, but not criminal, misconduct by eight priests in the diocese, four of whom were named in the report.
They are Msgrs. Eugene Costa, John Renken and [Msgr 3] and Lucas' predecessor, Bishop Daniel Ryan. Costa, Renken and [Msgr 3] all held leadership positions under Ryan and were pastors of parishes in the Springfield area.
"He was the leader," Roberts said of Ryan. "I think we saw a culture that had grown very permissive, very lax, a culture lacking discipline, a culture in which at some point the people became distrusting and wary of bringing things to the head of their church in their diocese because they believed that it wouldn't be handled appropriately."
A panel was appointed by Lucas to review the investigators' findings and make recommendations. In the panel's report, the diocese provided its most direct confirmation yet of Ryan's sexual misconduct. The report says Ryan "engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal this misconduct."
Ryan retired under fire as bishop in 1999. He is reported to be in poor health at an assisted living facility in Joliet.
Costa, who was chancellor of the diocese under Ryan, was beaten by two young men in Douglas Park on Dec. 21, 2004. He was subsequently said by the diocese to have engaged in "risky" and "inappropriate" behavior - he allegedly solicited the men for sex - which apparently played a role in the attack and prompted the investigation. Costa later was put on a leave of absence, and Roberts' probe found that Costa had been involved in sexual misconduct.
Lucas said he is taking steps to permanently bar Costa from ministry. The bishop said the process should be complete within a year.
Renken and [Msgr 3] are on leaves of absence as the result of what the report calls allegations of "personal and ministerial misconduct." [Msgr 3] has been on leave for more than a year, but Renken's leave was announced for the first time Wednesday.
The diocese's report (available at the diocesan Web site dio.org) says the investigation of Renken and [Msgr 3] is continuing.
Renken was vicar general of the diocese under Ryan and was co-pastor with [Msgr 3] at several diocesan parishes. Both held several leadership positions under Ryan.
"Both persist in denying knowledge of circumstances that would prompt allegations or questions," the report says. "Attempts by the bishop to remedy the situation were rebuffed by both Msgr. Renken and [Msgr 3]."
Lucas was a subject of the investigation as well as its instigator. A Divernon man, Thomas Munoz, claimed in early 2005 to have had sexual affairs with, the report says, "Bishop Lucas, five priests and three unnamed seminarians."
Munoz submitted to a polygraph exam and was asked specifically about his relationship with Lucas. It was the opinion of the polygraph expert that Munoz was not truthful when he confirmed their sexual relationship.
"Mr. Munoz," the report says, "has since refused to cooperate further with Mr. Roberts. Mr. Roberts and the panel found no merit to the allegations of Mr. Munoz."
Munoz stood by his story Wednesday and said he plans to file suit against Renken and others in the diocese.
The four other priests who were found to have engaged in non-criminal misconduct were not named in the report. Roberts and Lucas said nothing would be gained by reciting a "bill of particulars" of those allegations, although they were found to be credible.
Some of those allegations involved financial misconduct and some misuse of computers, such as going to inappropriate Web sites, Roberts and Lucas said. Nothing more specific was released.
Under questioning from reporters, Roberts and Lucas repeatedly defended their decision not to go into detail. Roberts said those four unnamed priests have admitted wrongdoing and agreed to go through rehabilitation and to amend their behavior.
"I think the goal of this investigation," said Roberts, "was to discover if there was wrongdoing. That's A. But, B, and more importantly, is what to do about it. That's the thrust, rather than concentrating on what somebody did a year or five years ago.
"The gist of that document," he said referring to the report, "is what good is it to further batter those people?"
Lucas, who came from the Archdiocese of St. Louis to succeed Ryan as bishop in 1999, said that in hindsight, he should have been more diligent in his first years as bishop.
"I was too trusting of some people," Lucas said. "My hope is that I can continue to be trusting in appropriate ways. I have a great deal of confidence in the vast majority of our priests. I'm proud of that. The panel is suggesting that I should have looked at things more closely."
The five members of the Special Panel on Clergy Misconduct are: Carolyn Graham, the chairwoman and a longtime member of Springfield's Blessed Sacrament Parish; state Sen. William Haine, former Madison County state's attorney; the Rev. Kurt Hartrich, a Franciscan priest from Quincy; Sgt. Robert Sgambelluri, a state law enforcement investigator specializing in domestic violence; and Sister Joan Winkler, provincial superior of the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order Regular of St. Francis and chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for Hospital Sisters Health System governing 13 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin.
All five attended Wednesday's news conference.
They had a particular concern with 15 priests being given the title "monsignor" in 2003. The title is basically honorary and bestowed as an honor to longtime priests. The panel said the perception exists that the title was given in this case to those who protected Ryan. Renken, vicar general at the time, chaired the committee that made the recommendations.
"Though no evidence suggests," the report says, "that Bishop Lucas was aware of any wrongdoing (by) the honorees at the time that he requested these priests be given the title of monsignor, the panel feels Bishop Lucas could have been more thorough in researching the character of some of those recommended."
Lucas said Wednesday he agreed with the panel's findings on that matter and suggested it was one of those areas in which he had been too trusting.
The unpaid panel will continue its work, Lucas said. Also, Roberts has agreed to remain on call as the diocese's lead investigator as needed. A toll-free number, (866) 346-2003, and e-mail address, email@example.com, remain in operation.
The panel's recommendations include more openness in incidents of clergy misconduct, calls for reinstating those priests under certain circumstances and reviewing their behavior periodically.
Since some of the misconduct apparently involves financial irregularities at the parish level, there also will be increased financial oversight. This includes requiring finance councils for each parish, conducting unannounced financial reviews of parishes and referring any evidence of embezzlement or theft to law enforcement. But the bishop made a distinction between "mismanagement" and theft or embezzlement.
In addition, the diocese is instituting tougher policies on computer use after Roberts found that some "were used to access inappropriate sites and were otherwise employed in a manner inconsistent with the mission of the church."
Lucas said he hopes the investigation and resulting new oversight will help rebuild parishioners' trust in diocesan leadership. He said one of the benefits of the investigation was that it confirmed that the majority of priests in the diocese are living as they are expected to.
"The hope of this process," Lucas said, "is that we can take an important step in restoring confidence."
Bringing in Roberts, a former state's attorney and U.S. attorney, was "one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made," Lucas said.
Dave Bakke can be reached at 788-1541 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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