Bernardin Gave Priest Repeated Chances before Forcing Resignation

By Art Golab
Chicago Sun-Times
January 21, 2014

The Rev. Robert Mayer was found guilty of fondling a 14-year-old girl in a church rectory at St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn.

[Rev. Robert Mayer]


In 1982, the pastor at St. Edna Church in Arlington Heights complained to the archdiocese that his associate pastor, the Rev. Robert Mayer, gave teenage boys alcohol; that young men were seen in his rectory “at all hours of the day and night;” that Mayer showed pornographic videos and that an incident occurred “concerning the measuring of genitals with a group of teens.”

Nine years later, Mayer was charged with fondling a 14-year-old girl in a church rectory at St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years.

But during that nine-year interval, allegations of inappropriate behavior during a previous assignment in Lake Forest came to light, as well multiple allegations from a later assignment in Des Plaines, yet Mayer continued to be transferred to other churches and was ultimately promoted to pastor.

These facts were generally known, but the documents released Wednesday shed light on how it happened.

With Cardinal John Cody seriously ill, the archdiocese took no immediate action on the 1982 complaint, according to the documents. Then a group of parents filed suit, alleging that Mayer, on an outing to Fox Lake with altar boys, gave them liquor, exposed himself and tried to pull swimsuits off two of the boys.

The documents show that in subsequent actions, one of the church’s major concerns was to keep the allegations quiet.

“We will need to decide how we are going to handle the Father Mayer situation,” newly appointed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote in a memo six months after the original complaint. “Basically we have agreed that we will review the matter. Our goal will be to arrange for a transfer, but on grounds other than those brought by those who have complained.

“The next question is this: Do we simply permit him to be assigned elsewhere, or must there be some evaluation of the difficulty? If there is really a problem with him, it will not be long for a crises to develop elsewhere.”

Mayer resigned from St. Edna, and church officials started looking for a new spot for him.

“The Cardinal is also concerned about Bob’s entry into the new parish — i.e. his reputation and his relationship with the new pastor and staff — that his entry be as smooth as possible.” Archdiocese staffers were assigned to “support and challenge” Mayer during this period.

Mayer wound up at St. Stephen Protomartyr in 1983 in Des Plaines, where soon more complaints of serving alcohol to minors and X-rated videotapes emerged. An internal church investigation concluded that “There did not seem to be anything substantive to the charges.”

The St. Edna suit, which also included allegations from Mayer’s previous stint at St. Mary of the Lake in Lake Forest, was settled quietly.

But more complaints surfaced at St. Stephen in 1987, prompting an investigation by Des Plaines police. Again church officials could not confirm any allegations but decided to take action anyway.

“A canonical mandate is given to Fr. Mayer to avoid all unsupervised contact with all persons under the age of 21. This applies especially to his private living quarters in the rectory. He is not to have persons under age 21 as guests at his cottage unless other adults are present,” a memo stated.

Further, Mayer was ordered to have monthly meetings with the archdiocese’s vicar for priests and, on completion of his five-year assignment at St. Stephen, he was ordered to look for a new post.

Mayer left St. Stephen in 1988, and archdiocesan officials scrambled to find a spot for him in a parish or in the church bureaucracy, but no one could be persuaded to hire him, the documents show. After several months in limbo, he was appointed administrator of St. Dionysius, a Cicero church that was being closed down.

“Bob, I know the people of Saint Dionysius will be well served as you provide leadership for them,” Bernardin wrote. “It is my hope that you, too, will find this experience a good one — both satisfying and rewarding for you personally. Know of my continued support and prayers as you take on this new responsibility.”

Documents mention no trouble at St. Dionysius, and after the church closed Mayer applied to be pastor at St. Odilo in Berwyn.

Vicar of Priests Raymond Goedert, later a bishop, had reservations.

“Part of me would welcome Bob being named a pastor, but there is also the concerns I have for the risks involved,” he wrote to Bernardin.

“In all honesty. I am ambivalent on just what you ought to do. But I do think the time has come to decide whether or not Bob will ever be a pastor. In fairness to him, we cannot let him dangle indefinitely — he has to know once and for all whether or not he will ever be permitted to become a pastor in this Archdiocese.”

Bernardin consulted with the Board of Vicars, which supported the appointment. But before he made the final decision:

“He confronted Bob head on about whether or not he had continued to have young people in his room without other adults present. Bob insisted that he has not done that either at St. Stephen’s or at St. Dionysius.

“He insisted that he has observed the mandate imposed upon him by Tom Ventura,” Goedert noted in a memo. “In the light of this, the Cardinal has decided to go ahead with the appointment.”

Within a year more allegations surfaced, and Bernardin had enough. He forced Mayer’s resignation in 1991. “I cannot tell you how hurt and disappointed and angry I am that this meeting today has become a necessity. I feel that you have betrayed me and violated the trust I placed in you,” he told Mayer in a prepared statement.

Yet the church still tried to keep what happened quiet.

“Bob said that we are going to have to help him to handle the political fallout,” a church memo recorded, “and the Cardinal responded that he was willing to do whatever he could to protect Bob’s reputation. On the other hand, if Bob had refused to resign, the Cardinal said that he would have to spell out the reasons for his dismissal, etc.”

“Personal reasons” were given as an explanation for Mayer’s departure.

Five months later Mayer was indicted.

In the years since, the archdiocese has investigated and confirmed other claims of abuse by Mayer and paid out millions in settlements.


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