“the Sound of Silence,” a Look at Allegations of Abuse Within the Peoria Diocese
Channel 25 News
February 13, 2019
Although he now lives in Rockford, Jeff Jones was born into a devout Catholic family in Pekin. Growing up in Central Illinois in the 1950’s and 60’s his mother often volunteered at St. Joseph’s. It was during that time he first met Father Walter Breuning.
He would bring gifts. He bought my mom and dad an air-conditioning unit, he bought them new carpet. And I’m a little boy right and I’m seeing all the stuff thinking, ‘gosh, this guy is tremendous,'” recalls Jones.
At a young age Jones says he quickly grew attached to the Priest. So, when Father Breuning was transferred from his Parrish in Pekin to St. Anthony’s in Atkinson, Jones says he jumped at the invitation to come stay with the Priest on various breaks from school, including his summer vacation. He recalls working odd jobs around the rectory for money by day, sleeping on a couch in the living room by night.
|St. Anthony’s, Atkinson, IL|
But then, one day, he says the relationship changed.
“He said to me, ‘You know, why don’t you go in here? The air conditioner is better in my room. Why don’t you come on in there and sleep in there?’ And I said, ‘OK,” Jones begin, with a long pause as he looks down and stares at his clenched hands. “He started rubbing my back and I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is OK, and then he started dipping his hand down in my underwear. He took my underwear off and he began to, you know, massage me down there.”
Just 9 years old,Jones says he didn’t realize it was sexual abuse, and because he loved and trusted his Priest, he kept his secret silent.
|Jeff Jones, alleged victim of abuse, age 9|
“At 1 o’clock every day, every day we took a nap, and every day it would happen. Every single day. I knew this was wrong but I also didn’t think it could be totally wrong because father Breuning was the one doing it.”
Meanwhile, he maintains his family thought nothing of allowing him to spend so much time with Father Breuning, including overnight outings to Chicago to catch a Cubs game, a moment that was captured in a photograph he’s kept to this day.
But Jones says that’s not the only picture that exists documenting their relationship. Many pictures, he says, were taken in Atkinson, specifically at the old school. It’s now gone, replaced by another building. But, it was in that old building that Jones says Father Breuning took him to the basement, and things took a much darker turn.
“There was an altar, a table in the middle with a white cloth over it, and I’m walking in and there are candles all over this room candles everywhere,” he shares with a tremor to his voice.
From there Jones claims he was instructed to lay on the table naked, where he was bound and blindfolded, but not before catching a glimpse of a Polaroid camera and a box full of leather products.
“And he said, ‘Now I’ve got a whip, Jeff, and I really need to know what it felt like for Jesus to be whipped, I really need to know, and he sent you here to help me find out.’ I never knew where it was coming from. And he had a camera in one hand. I could tell because he’s taking pictures, and they were coming out of that thing, because I’ll never forget the noise.”
Jones claims this bizarre ritual followed by sexual abuse happened on multiple occasions over time, including when Breuning was moved to yet another Parish at St. Augustine’s in Avon. Finally, Breuning was moved once again, this time to St. Mary’s in Henry, where he would stay until he later retired.
It was around that time Jones, then 15,says he began distancing himself from the Priest and throwing himself into what he later referred to as his escape, baseball. After a full-ride to a Division One school and a stint playing in a developmental league, Jones settled down and got married.
“I never told my first wife: never not in all the years we were married 19 years I never told her,” he admits.
In fact, it was years after they divorced that he met his now-second wife, and shared his secret with her.
He says they were watching news coverage back in 2002 of Cardinal Bernard Law, the former Archbishop of Boston, who was one of the first to be publicly accused of hiding abuse within the Catholic Church.
“I was watching this on TV, and she could tell that something you know… wasn’t right with me. And when I started to talk about it, it just all came out,” he choked out in an admission punctuated with long pauses.
|Jeff Jones and wife, Susan|
With his wife’s encouragement, he says he contacted the Diocese, but claims while they offered to pay for his counselling, he never got any sort of apology, and no acknowledgement from Bishop Daniel Jenky.
“They’ve never spoken to me, they never apologized. I’ve never been given a big, ‘hey we’re sorry that this happened,’ nothing, nothing,” he angrily exclaims.
Meanwhile, Jones’ wife says she tried confronting Breuning, himself.
“He just stood in the doorway and when I met him and introduced myself he just said, ‘I’ve nothing to say,’ and shut the door,” shared Susan Jones.
Frustrated, the couple joined forces with SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and started holding press conferences in Peoria around 2005. Jones started hosting monthly meetings in Central Illinois, encouraging other victims to come forward.
“It wasn’t necessarily the same priest, it was different priests. And it wasn’t the same parishes, it was different parishes,” he maintains.
It was during this time SNAP’s founder and president, Barbara Blaine, encouraged Jones to pursue a lawsuit.
He was eventually joined by 11 other people, including his brother and a childhood friend who said they, too, had been abused by Breuning.
That lawsuit dragged on for 8 years, during which time Jones shared his story in front of the Illinois Senate in an attempt to change the statute of limitations, something that prevented him and others from pursuing criminal charges. That law wouldn’t be changed till much later in 2017.
But, while the courts debated the issue, the Peoria Diocese ended up settling with Jones and his group for an undisclosed amount of money.
As for Breuning, already retired, he was defrocked, only to pass away shortly thereafter in 2009. His final resting place.. a cemetery more than an hour away in Spring Valley.
“And I don’t feel sorry for him because of the pain he’s caused everyone, by the life he led that was just despicable,” Susan exclaims with strong conviction.
For Jones, even knowing Breuning is gone, the nightmares remain very much alive.
“I think about it and it haunts me every single day.”
So why does he continue to relive the abuse by sharing his story?
“Again, maybe we’re going to save one other, and if we do, has this meeting been worth it? You better believe it, it’s been worth it,” he shared, leaning forward in his seat, punctuating his point.
Again, the Peoria Diocese denied our request for an interview with the bishop. However they did provide a statement outlining the safe training program they’ve implemented to try to prevent abuse.
Here’s a copy of the statement 25 News received:
The Catholic Diocese of Peoria is fully committed to the implementation of the USCCB Charter for the Protection of Children to ensure that the young people in our schools, youth groups, religious education programs, and other ministries remain safe. Since the Charter was first implemented in 2002, the Diocese has trained and screened more than 12,000 adults and educated over 35,000 children and young people.
• Our safe environment training program, provided through Catholic Mutual’s CMGConnect, is required for all clergy, religious, and lay employees, as well as volunteers who have regular contact with children as part of their service to theChurch. Records are maintained of all adults who have been trained.
• Children enrolled in our Catholic schools and parish religious education programs are educated each year using age appropriate materials pertaining to personal safety.
• All clergy, religious, and lay staff, and all volunteers who have regular contact with children, are required to submit to criminal history background checks. In addition, each adult has a background check conducted by the Department of Children and Family Services via its Child Abuse and Neglect Tracking System (CANTS). Each adult is also checked against the National Sex Offender Registry. Records are maintained of all adults who have completed background checks.
As a Diocesan community, we affirm our commitment to work diligently to prevent the sexual abuse of children and to provide listening and support for victims of abuse. We pray for all who have experienced abuse, that the power of Christ may heal and renew them in body, mind, and spirit. We thank the LORD for our children and young people, and commit our institutions to ensuring their ongoing safety and protection.