Priest Cases Show Abuse Issues Persist
By Stacy St. Clair, David Heinzmann and Christy Gutowski
April 7, 2013
When Will County sheriff's deputies found the Rev. William Virtue sneaking into a private quarry in 1986, police records state that the Roman Catholic priest had blankets, two six packs of beer and a 10-year-old boy with him. He fled on foot when officers arrived, leaving the child behind.
Authorities took Virtue into custody after he returned to his car but later released him without charges because the boy's mother said she had given her son permission to go swimming with the priest. Still, a deputy forwarded the report to Joliet Diocese officials who put it into Virtue's personnel file — which already contained several accusations involving inappropriate behavior with underage boys.
The arrest report would remain tucked away for 20 years as Virtue continued to have contact with youths, and even after a seemingly repentant Joliet Diocese pledged in 2002 to improve its handling of sex abuse cases and held up guidelines approved by American bishops as proof of its commitment to transparency and victims' needs.
Virtue's personnel file, which contains 500 pages of letters, memos and reports, reflects the struggles the church faced since its public vow to better protect children after a bruising, national sex abuse scandal. Records obtained by the Tribune reveal several instances in which the diocese's handling of abuse allegations contradicted those promises, adding to concerns about the overall efficacy of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that U.S. bishops signed amid fanfare in June 2002.
For four years after that charter's passage, Virtue continued to minister in the central Illinois Peoria Diocese, where he officially transferred at his own request in 1988. A Tribune review found no indication that Joliet Diocese officials re-examined his personnel records after the adoption of the guidelines, which call for a review of all priests.
"There were problems here, and in hindsight, certainly other judgments could have been made, obviously," Joliet Diocese spokesman James Dwyer said. "Bishop (Joseph) Imesch did sit down with him and tell him sternly, 'This is wrong. You can't do stuff like this.'"
Virtue was removed from ministry in 2006 by the Peoria Diocese shortly after a former parishioner at St. Mary Catholic Church in Mokena alleged the priest raped him in the 1980s when he was an altar boy, according to church records.
A review board deemed the allegation credible, a decision Virtue is appealing. He has denied any inappropriate behavior.
The diocese reached an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victim from Mokena, church records show.
A Tribune investigation, which included reviewing more than 7,000 pages turned over in a settlement in an unrelated case, uncovered cases in which the Joliet Diocese failed to recognize the severity of allegations, made little effort to find victims and misled the public, raising concerns about the church's adherence to the charter's spirit.
In response, the diocese provided the Tribune with a letter saying it had been declared in compliance with the charter after an independent review. It did not provide the documents used in the audit.
The diocese also has created an office of child protection to serve as a liaison between victims and their families. "We're concerned mistakes of the past don't happen again," Dwyer said.
Lingering anger, skepticism
In the 11 years since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the current "zero tolerance" guidelines, serious lapses have occurred in religious districts across the country. In 2011, a grand jury issued a report saying that at least 37 priests with "substantial evidence of abuse" in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were still in roles that bring them into contact with children.
A year later, Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., became the first U.S. bishop convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse, after he protected a priest who took lewd photographs of young girls in his parish. Finn was sentenced to probation for the misdemeanor but remains bishop.
The Joliet Diocese raised eyebrows last week when it acknowledged that church officials allowed a Roman Catholic priest to serve as a hospital chaplain even though the bishop had declared him unfit for parish ministry because of "inappropriate behavior" with a boy.
The Rev. Thomas Corbino wasn't charged with criminal wrongdoing, but Bishop R. Daniel Conlon placed him on "restricted ministry" in 2012 and barred him from having unsupervised interaction with children before he became a volunteer chaplain at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.
The hospital fired Corbino hours after learning a former parishioner at St. Irene Catholic Church in Warrenville accused the priest of touching him inappropriately, taking pictures of him and forcing him to try on clothes in front of him when he was young. Corbino could not be reached for comment.
A review board ruled Corbino had engaged in "inappropriate behavior," but the panel found no credible evidence of a crime, Dwyer said.
"I don't understand why they play these games. I just know they've continued to play them even after 2002," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.