Jenky Gives Victims a Poke in the Eye

By Michael Miller
Rancho Miller
November 3, 2008

A crosier is a staff that is supposed to be used as a symbol of a bishop's role as a shepherd and his responsibility to keep the flock going in the right direction.

Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, though, likes to use it to give victims of clergy sexual assault a poke in the eye.

This time, according to a story in the Saturday, Oct. 25, 2008, Journal Star, he has decided to lift the ban on public ministry of a priest who has been accused in a pending civil lawsuit of sexually assaulting a parishioner, getting her pregnant and then forcing her to get an abortion. The priest, Thomas Szydlik, was expected to concelebrate a Mass with the bishop, nonetheless — in Dallas City on Saturday.

The diocese had announced in the spring, when the lawsuit was brought, that Szydlik had agreed to step down from ministry "pending the resolution of these matters."

Several groups, such as the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and Voice of the Faithful, have asked Jenky not to allow Szydlik to return to public ministry.

According to the diocese, Szydlik has "vehemently" denied the allegations.

What is Jenky missing here? Can he not see the appearance of callousness this gives, the cavalier attitude it exhibits toward victims of sexual assault? Is he so bent on showing how tough he is when it comes to withstanding the pressure of victims groups that he fails to understand how this shows a lack of compassion toward victims? As a bishop, as a caring shepherd, isn't he supposed to be one of the best examples of compassion in this area?

Under Jenky's leadership, the diocese has done the minimum it has to for clergy sex-abuse victims, offering to pay for counseling and no more.

All of this falls far short of what many dioceses are doing. A recent U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops report, "Promise to Protect, Pledge to Heal: Additional Actions 2007," details the ways in which many dioceses have gone beyond the minimum required of them by the USCCB's Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. That latter document set the standards for dealing with victims of clergy sexual assault.

Do a search for "Peoria" in the PDF file, though, and you'll come up empty.

The Diocese of Peoria's redesigned Web site also lacks any links whatsoever to any information about clergy sexual abuse — the written diocesan policy, contact information for those wanting to report a case, anything.

Other weird things about the diocese's handling of this case:

Diocesan chancellor/attorney/spokeswoman Patricia Gibson said in a statement that

The case involving Father Thomas Szydlik and Holly Force involved consenting adults and is not a case involving sexual abuse of a child.

The case involving Father Thomas Szydlik and Holly Force involved consenting adults and is not a case involving sexual abuse of a child.

Which leads me to ask: Yeah, so? What difference does that make?

She also said that

The case involving Father Thomas Szydlik and Holly Force involved consenting adults and is not a case involving sexual abuse of a child.

After further investigation of the allegations contained in the civil lawsuit, the Bishop determined that Father Szydlik could return to ministry.

And how was this investigation done? Through court depositions? An independent investigator?

Finally, Gibson said that

It should be noted that Father Szydlik underwent over five months of therapy and a lengthy period of discernment before returning to ministry.

She also said this in her statement this past spring when the lawsuit was first filed, so unless Szydlik went through another five months of therapy and lengthy period of discernment, this shouldn't have anything to do with his return to public ministry now.

Jenky already has a questionable track record when it comes to dealing with victims of clergy sexual abuse — no matter how old the victims are. He has repeatedly refused to meet with victims groups, trying to come off as a tough-minded (and tough-spirited) protector of diocesan financial assets. But by allowing Szydlik to publicly perform the sacraments again with questions still bouncing around as to whether the priest is guilty of the accusations, Jenky is exhibiting a callousness toward victims not seen to date.


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