Naperville Church Savors End of Suit against Priest

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune [Naperville IL]
June 6, 2007,1,4960339.story?

Parishioners at a Roman Catholic church in Naperville are celebrating this week after hearing that a sexual abuse lawsuit against their pastor has been dismissed.

Meanwhile, the man who accused the priest blames the state's statute of limitations for quashing his claim.

Rev. Richard Bennett, pastor of Holy Spirit Catholic Community Church, was accused of fondling an 11-year-old altar boy after mass when he served at St. Pius X parish in Lombard in 1975.

Tim Greco, now 44, told the Catholic Diocese of Joliet in 2004 that Bennett caught another priest abusing him. Greco said Bennett not only did not report it, but also abused him.

Without talking to Greco, the Joliet Diocesan Review Committee deemed the accusation against Bennett "not credible." Greco filed a lawsuit against the diocese, Bennett and the other priest, Rev. Philip Dedera, in April 2006.

That suit was dismissed in November by a DuPage County Circuit Court judge who said Greco was too old to make the allegations based on the state's statute of limitations. Appeals prolonged the case until the end of May, and Bennett didn't tell his congregation that the suit had been dismissed until over the weekend.

The diocese reached a settlement regarding Dedera.

For 13 months, Bennett remained in ministry and steadfastly denied the allegation to his congregation, which did not know about the 2004 complaint until the lawsuit made it public in April 2006.

"He knew long before we knew, and you never would have known it," said Martha Tracey, a parishioner at Holy Spirit for seven years. "That says what kind of man he is. ... What we saw from him was an extraordinary amount of faith."

Church employees were asked to make sure the priest was never alone with children -- a policy for all priests in the Joliet Diocese.

Greco said Bishop Peter Sartain sent him a written apology on behalf of the church last month. It was the first time the diocese had reached out to him since the original allegation, he said.

Sartain also released a statement to the parish, which it posted on its Web site. "All of us are very happy for Father Bennett and full of admiration for him for the way he has continued his priestly ministry under very trying circumstances," Sartain said.

Bennett asked parishioners over the weekend to pray for Greco and other victims of abuse. He described the time since the allegation as a "difficult journey."

"From day one I have declared my innocence," he told the congregation.

Greco said he wishes Bennett would "look me in the eye and tell me nothing happened." Through a church spokeswoman, Bennett said he may do that.

Dave Dahler, president of the parish's pastoral council, said he never doubted the priest.

"I asked him straight up, and he looked me in the eye and he told me he never did harm to Mr. Greco or anyone else in his life," Dahler said Tuesday. "I believed him."



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