Ex-priest Fired from Cwlp Will Appeal Termination
By Crystal Thomas
January 9, 2019
A former City Water, Light and Power employee, who was fired by the city after his name appeared on a list of ex-priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors, is appealing his termination.
Joseph D. Cernich, 62, was fired as a technical support specialist in CWLP’s information systems division Dec. 28 after the city’s Office of Human Resources conducted an investigation into his employment and hiring.
The review began after his name appeared on a list put out by the Diocese of Springfield in November of all of its priests that have had substantiated claims of child sexual abuse, as determined by a diocesan review board mostly made up of lay people with expertise in law enforcement, psychology and education.
Cernich informed the city Tuesday he will appeal the termination through arbitration. As part of a newly certified bargaining unit organized by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 193, the union will be representing Cernich through the appeal.
Chad Vacek, assistant business manager of IBEW Local 193, said Cernich was told why he was fired. Vacek would not comment on the cause, nor would the city.
Vacek said both sides agreed to skip the grievance process and go straight to arbitration. Once a panel of seven arbitrators provided by the American Arbitration Association is culled to one, a hearing will be held where both sides can present the arguments. The arbitrator’s decision would be final.
Vacek said Cernich’s arbitration case would be “unique.”
“There hasn’t been one like this in the country, so its hard to pick which arbitrator is best for us,” Vacek said. “The city would have the same problem picking an arbitrator.”
A request for comment from the city was not returned, though the city attorney did confirm the arbitration proceedings.
Cernich has not been a priest since 2003. That year, Cernich was laicized, or stripped of his priestly title, in June and got a job at CWLP in November.
He started as a “microcomputer trainer” at a starting salary of $36,000. At the time he was fired, his base salary was about $57,000. His personnel file, obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, did not include any disciplinary actions and was mostly positive. Throughout the investigation, he was placed on paid administrative leave and his termination paperwork was mailed to his home. He did not receive severance pay but was paid for unused vacation and compensatory time.
The diocese has refused to say what Cernich has been accused of or which parishes he was assigned to as a priest.
Cernich was ordained in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in mid-1983, according to a SJ-R article from the time. According to a diocesan pastoral directory published in 1986, Cernich was a listed as one of the parochial vicars at Our Saviour Church in Jacksonville, along with Robert DeGrand, another priest who appeared on the diocese’s list.
Several marriage and obituary notices from 1987 to 1989 list Cernich as the officiant and place the ceremonies at Blessed Sacrament Church in Springfield. Newspaper archives also show he officiated weddings and funerals at St. Agnes Church, St. Cabrini Church and the Cathedral, all in Springfield, as well as St. Mary’s Church in Canton. Official Catholic directories from 1987 and 1993 list Cernich under priests who took a leave of absence that year.
The month before he had the ability to celebrate Mass or offer sacraments removed in 1995, he began working in the administrative offices of the Diocese of Springfield Catholic Charities. He worked there until 2002, which was the same year a diocesan review board was created to evaluate allegations of child sex abuse.
Cernich was one of 19 priests named on the list the diocese published on its website in November. He was the only ex-priest on the list whose name hadn’t appeared previously in local media or lawsuits alleging abuse.
Contact Crystal Thomas: 788-1528, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/crystalclear224.