Lacon Priest Accused of Sex Abuse

Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL)
August 24, 1993

PEORIA (AP) - Members of a Moline family who claim a Catholic priest molested them when they were children say they are telling their stories now to help other victims come forward and begin healing.

Michael Emery, 34; his 36-year-old brother, identified only as "Brick"; and their 35-year-old sister, Diane, all told the Peoria Journal Star they were molested as teen-agers in Moline in the early to mid-1970s by the Rev. William Harbert.

Rev. Harbert, 60, is a chaplain at St. Joseph Retirement Home in Lacon. He has not been charged. From 1962 to 1966, he served at Holy Trinity Church in Bloomington, according to the Catholic Diocese of Peoria's 1993 Directory.

In 1971-76, Rev. Harbert served at churches in Rock Island and Moline, where he befriended Dick and Pat Emery. They embraced him as a family member, keeping a "special chair" for him in their home, caring for his dog and trusting him with a key to their home and with their children.

It was not until the 1980s that their three children accused Harbert of sexually abusing them a decade earlier, the newspaper reported in Sunday's editions.

Rev. Harbert declined to be interviewed by the newspaper and he did not return messages left on his answering machine seeking comment. He issued a one-sentence statement through his lawyer, Stephen M. Komie of Chicago.

"I wish the ... Emery family well and pray that they are able to find peace with themselves and their God," the statement read.

Bishop John J. Myers, who oversees the 26-county Diocese of Peoria and its 230,700 Catholics, declined to confirm or deny the allegations.

But in a May 13, 1992, in letter to Mike Emery, Myers wrote:

"Let me assure you that we have no intention ever of allowing young people to be at risk for the kind of problems which you experienced."

Myers said Rev. Harbert has been treated at the Isaac Ray Center in Chicago, which is associated with Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center. The center's private sector services include a sexual behaviors clinic and a center for families in conflict.

"He still sees a psychotherapist at diocesan expense. Even recently we have been reassured that any problems which Father (Harbert) might have had in this regard are under control. I know he feels sincere remorse for any past actions," he said.

Myers also told Mike Emery in a letter that there have been no reports of other incidents involving Rev. Harbert "since the unfortunate events which have affected you and your family."

In a recent interview, Myers said Rev. Harbert continues to undergo intensive therapy and his living situation and activity is monitored.

Diane Emery said none of the children knew the others were being abused, at the time. It eventually trickled out, starting with Brick about 1982, Diane Emery said.

The Rev. James Campbell, diocesan vicar general and chancellor, said the diocese knew Rev. Harbert had a psychosexual problem, but didn't know the details.

The diocese put Rev. Harbert into therapy "to safeguard the population from any difficulties that might occur," Rev. Campbell said.


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