Diocese Discloses Names of Priests Who Sexually Abused Minors
By Steven Spearie
November 29, 2018
The Diocese of Springfield on Thursday afternoon, in response to a review by the Illinois Attorney General’s office, released the names of 19 priests — including a former bishop — that it confirmed were the subjects of substantiated charges of sexually abusing children.
Though individual priests may have been identified over the years, the Springfield Diocese confirmed that this is the first comprehensive list of abuse cases it has ever released.
A diocesan review board had determined that the priests named on the lists had substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors. The Review Board, which has been in place since 2002, has been comprised of predominantly lay people with professional backgrounds in areas such as state and local law enforcement, criminal and civil law, education, and psychology, the diocese said.
“Any single case of abuse is one too many,” Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said in a statement. “But this review has shown the positive impact of a zero-tolerance approach, and we are committed to sustain these efforts with heightened vigilance.”
Twelve priests on the list are dead. They were Alvin Campbell, Robert Dodd, Michael Driscoll, Robert Eagear, George Faller, Ray Franzen, George Kromenaker, Joseph C. O’Brien, Frank O’Hara, Daniel Ryan, Aloysius Schwellenbach and Frank Westhoff.
Ryan, who abruptly resigned as bishop in 1999, died in 2015. An independent investigative report in 2006 stated that Ryan fostered “a culture of secrecy” in the diocese that discouraged priests from coming forward with information about sexual misconduct by other priests in the diocese, which covers 28 counties in central Illinois.
The 2006 report, authored by Springfield attorney and former state’s attorney and federal attorney Bill Roberts, said Ryan “engaged in sexual misconduct with adults and used his authority to conceal this misconduct.” Ryan was never charged or prosecuted.
Four other priests named on Thursday — Joseph Cernich, Eugene Costa, Joseph Havey and Walter Weerts — were listed as laicized, or having been removed from the priesthood. As such, the diocese does not keep records on their whereabouts, said spokeswoman Marlene Mulford.
Three names were denoted as no longer in ministry, a designation for priests without the faculties of priesthood: Garrett Neal Dee, Robert DeGrand and Francis Tebangura.
Dee left Springfield for the Diocese of Amarillo in Texas and Tebangura left for his native Uganda. DeGrand, not in active ministry since 2015, is the only one still in the diocese and thereby “accountable to the diocese,” Mulford said.
The Attorney General’s office began an investigation in August following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing that church leaders covered up sexual abuse allegations made against more than 300 priests in the past 70 years. At least seven identified in the report had ties to Illinois.
Dioceses across Illinois have since begun disclosing additional names of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors. The Archdiocese of Chicago has disclosed 10 additional names, the Peoria Diocese three names and the Rockford Diocese 11 names.
“Today, the Diocese of Springfield joined the other Illinois dioceses in disclosing its initial accounting,” said Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “It is critical that the investigation and these disclosures continue for the benefit of survivors, their families, parishioners and the public.”
Mulford said the diocese provided Madigan’s office with everything they asked for, but that more information — like parish assignments for the accused priests and the dates of incidents — would not be displayed on the list released to the public.
“We disclosed everything to the Attorney General,” Mulford said. “That information has already been given to them. We printed the list, which is what we’ve been asked for.”
The diocese has launched a website where the public can view the list priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors, as determined by the Review Board. Paprocki said this ‘Promise’ website was set up “to provide a channel for dialog and transparency.” The website also shows graphics indicating that documented cases of abuse have been steadily declining since the 1970s.
“Unfortunately, the implementation of our safe environment, beginning in the early 2000?s, was prompted by very public and scandalous revelations of sins in our own clergy, including one of our own bishops,” the website says. “While shocking and painful for the faithful, priests, deacons and religious of this diocese, these circumstances also created an environment of awareness, and prompted a series of actions, in our diocese that many others are just now coming to terms with.
“The result of all this is what can only be honestly described as a mixed track record in our diocese, marked by grave sin but also by diligent and effective response, with a clear turning point near the close of the last century,” the website says.
Not all were satisfied with the diocese’s disclosure, however. David Clohessy, spokesperson for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, criticized Paprocki for not disclosing other relevant information on the list, such as assignment histories or even where the alleged abuses took place.
“Almost all of (the other lists) provide more details and are more helpful than this one by Paprocki,” Clohessy said. “It’s hard to give him credit when a few of his colleagues (compiled these lists) in 2002 and dozens have done so more recently. Most important, he’s got an attorney general and angry Catholics breathing down his neck.”
Clohessy also disputed the statistics showing a decline in abuse cases, noting that many victims take decades before ultimately reporting abuse.
“Paprocki is being his usual disingenuous self here by claiming abuse happens less often these days,” Clohessy said. “He cannot know this. No one can.”
Terence McKiernan, president of Bishop.Accountability.org, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based non-profit that maintains a website of publicly accused priests in the U.S., said the list from the Springfield diocese is “a mixed bag.”
“Springfield decided to go minimal,” said McKiernan, echoing Clohessy’s frustration that assignment histories weren’t included.
“Parents don’t have a map of what priests worked where. From assignment histories, you can tell what parish might have been favored by a bishop to send priests who abuse. You can get insight as to whether a priest was bad news or if the bishop knew he was bad news. Without the assignment list, you’re basically concealing the problem.”
BishopAccountability lists four priests who served in the diocese -- the Reverends Stanislaus Yunker, Louis Schlangen, Richard Niebrugge and Kevin Downey -- who were not included on the list released by Springfield Thursday.
Downey’s name, said McKiernan, might have been left off the list because he belongs to the Franciscan Order. According to BishopAccountability, the alleged claim against Downey came when he was stationed at Quincy College (now Quincy University) in 1990.
“There’s a tendency to leave religious order priests’ names off, but order priests need faculties (permission) to work in a diocese,” said McKiernan. “It’s not uncommon (to leave their names off), but it’s not a positive step. It lets them off easy.”
Niebrugge, Yunker and Schlangen are all dead. Yunker and Schlangen served in parishes in Springfield.
McKiernan said that names new to BishopAccountability from the Springfield list will be added to the website.
?(Seeing that priest’s name on the website) is a significant moment for survivors,” he said.
Victoria Schmidt, executive director of Theresians International, a Springfield-based Catholic women’s organization, also characterized the list as a mixed bag. While Schmidt said it was “a good thing that (Paprocki’s) doing it before he’s forced to do it,” she said the church’s clericalism threatens to perpetuate the problem.
“In all of those statements he made, there weren’t any statements that said ‘here’s how I will be held accountable.’ He talks about transparency, but he doesn’t say who’s going to hold him accountable to be transparent,” Schmidt said.
In addition to the Review Board, Mulford said the diocese has implemented several policies to help create a safe environment, including background checks on all adults who work with minors and requiring that they taking a special training course meant to help prevent, identify, respond to and report child abuse. The website says 57,000 people -- adults and children -- have been trained since 2002.