Lawsuit Claims Abuse by Late Priest in Peoria Diocese

Northwest Herald [Peoria IL]
January 17, 2007

Chicago (AP) A 33-year-old man filed a lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Peoria on Tuesday, alleging a purposeful cover-up of pedophile priests and seeking more than $800,000 in damages.

In the lawsuit filed in Peoria County Court, Aaron Slaughter alleges the late Rev. William Harbert abused him daily during two separate periods that spanned a few weeks, once when he was eight or nine years old and again when he was 14.

Slaughter's attorney, Joseph Klest, said Tuesday that Slaughter repressed memories of his abuse until Harbert's name was in the news for an abuse case the diocese settled in 2005. He then started to have flashbacks of his own abuse, Klest said.

"What most people don't understand is that victims of sexual abuse don't initially feel like victims," Klest said. "They feel like they did something wrong themselves. A lot of them force the memory aside as a way to cope."

Messages left after business hours with Patricia Gibson, listed on the diocese's Web site as the diocesan attorney, and Rev. Daniel Jenky, the vice chancellor at the office of the bishop, were not immediately returned Tuesday night.

Ann Slaughter, victims' advocate for the diocese and no relation to Aaron Slaughter, said she works with those who make allegations of abuse but would not comment on the lawsuit or discuss any specific cases.

Klest would say only that Slaughter lives in the "Peoria area." A telephone number for an Aaron Slaughter in Illinois was unlisted, but Klest described him as a man whose life was in shambles as a result of the abuse and who has been "in and out of prison" on drug-related charges.

"He has no direction, no work, no prospect of getting work, all because his life was pretty out there as a result of his sexual abuse," Klest said. "I think they owe him something for that."

Klest represented a 37-year-old man in a previous case against Harbert settled in 2005. In that case, Daniel Koenigs alleged he was abused by Harbert and two other priests in the 1980s. He also claimed that the diocese knew about the abuse but kept the priests in public ministry. Koenigs sought $1 million in damages, but terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

At that time, diocese officials said they weren't aware of any allegations of abuse against the priests until 1993. Former Bishop John J. Myers then removed Harbert and another priest from public ministry, according to the diocese. Harbert died in April 2003.


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