Lawsuit Claims Abuse by Late Priest in Peoria Diocese

By Laurel Jorgensen
The Southern [Chicago IL]
January 18, 2007

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."

The diocese had not officially been served with the lawsuit but diocesan officials previously met with Slaughter and Klest, according to a statement released Tuesday by diocese spokeswoman Elizabeth Smarjesse.

A diocesan commission reviewed the results of the meeting and recommended the diocese not grant Slaughter's monetary request because his allegations were not sufficiently clear, the statement said. Two offers from the diocese to discuss professional counseling were rejected, according to the statement.

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.


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