Bishop's Response about Abuse Allegations Disappoints Victims Group

By Steven Spearie
State Journal-register
August 6, 2010

Bishop Thomas John Paprocki sings during his installation as the ninth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Springfield Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas John Paprocki has assured a St. Louis-based victims’ rights group that no priests with proven, admitted or credible accusations of child abuse are currently ministering in the diocese.

Paprocki also rebuffed for now a suggestion from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests that the names of child-molesting clerics be posted publicly -- on the diocese’s website, for instance.

SNAP responded Thursday that it was disappointed by Paprocki’s response.

Paprocki addressed the matter of Rev. Henry Willenborg, a Franciscan priest who served in Quincy, part of the Springfield diocese from 1976 to 1987. Paprocki wrote that he was satisfied “that outreach and investigation (on Willenborg) have been properly conducted by the Franciscan Order.”

Willenborg fathered the child of a Quincy woman whom he had been counseling.

Willenborg belongs to a St. Louis-based provincialate of the Franciscans, which provided child support and paid other bills in return for the mother signing a confidentiality agreement. The agreement broke down in November, when the order balked at paying bills surrounding the child’s care for brain cancer in New York City. The child died Nov. 29.

A New York Times story alleged that Willenborg also abused a Quincy minor while he served at a Franciscan-run seminary.

In his letter, Paprocki stated that “no claims of misconduct or sex abuse of a minor ... have been brought forward (against Willenborg.)”

Reached in St. Louis Wednesday, Brother Christopher Lambert of the Franciscans’ Sacred Heart Provincialate confirmed Paprocki’s statement.

SNAP had asked Paprocki to visit sites in the diocese where Willenborg worked and publicly ask anyone with knowledge of misdeeds by Willenborg to contact the police. SNAP also called on Paprocki to find out and announce where Willenborg lives now.

Willenborg left the Springfield diocese in 1987 to seek treatment at a center for troubled priests in New Mexico. He resurfaced as a pastor of an Ashland, Wis., church in 2004.

The Diocese of Superior, Wis., suspended Willenborg from active ministry after the New York Times article appeared. At the time, Superior Bishop Peter Christensen said it was necessary to suspend Willenborg because of the allegation involving the Quincy minor.

Lambert said Wednesday the suspension wasn’t based on the allegation, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

Regarding other accused priests, Paprocki said in his letter that “such clerics were removed from ministry ... and that they are now either deceased or no longer under ecclesiastical accountability.”

Willenborg was “never assigned at a parish of the diocese or any other diocesan institution,” the letter added.

SNAP’s David Clohessy said Paprocki is refusing to do the bare minimum to safeguard Catholics in the diocese.

“This is a very disturbing backwards move by a cleric who professes to care about children,” said Clohessy. “One would have thought that posting the names on the Web site was a no-brainer.

“It’s what 24 of his colleagues have done, including his former boss in Chicago, Cardinal (Francis) George.”

Clohessy said he’s also dubious about the Franciscans’ investigation into Willenborg and suggested that the Springfield diocese ought to be doing its own investigation.

“There’s suspicion based on evidence,” said Clohessy. “No one is denying that (Willenborg) broke his vow of celibacy.

“Paprocki is making it clear that he’s ignoring serious child sex allegations against a proven predator (Willenborg). His choice is between doing nothing or doing something to help find out whether Willenborg sexually assaulted in the Springfield diocese.

“Paprocki chooses to do nothing.”

Steven Spearie can be reached at or at 622-1788.


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