Will Truth about Bishop Ever Be Known?

By Jason Piscia
State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)
October 31, 1999

he 65,000 households of the Springfield Catholic Diocese may never learn the truth of allegations of sexual misconduct raised in a lawsuit last week against former Bishop Daniel Ryan.

That's partly because most civil lawsuits never go to trial, often being dismissed or settled before any witnesses are heard in court.

And whatever the truth of the charges against Ryan, the allegations against the former bishop are tangential to the main issue in this case -- whether a now-30-year-old former altar boy is entitled to compensation for alleged sexual abuse by a priest in Morrisonville more than 15 years ago.

Springfield attorney Frederic Nessler says his client, Matthew McCormick, who now lives in Texas, is eager to present his case in court. But Nessler concedes that perhaps 85 percent of lawsuits are settled out of court.

And McCormick, Nessler and co-counsel Stephen Rubino of New Jersey also are relying on a legal theory called "delayed discovery" that has a mixed track record in central Illinois.

The accusations that Ryan had sexual relationships with male prostitutes and priests have been swirling around the Catholic Diocese of Springfield for at least three years.

Ryan has categorically denied those claims, which previously had been made mainly by a local group of self-styled "orthodox" Catholics who also objected to Ryan's administrative style and his interpretation of religious doctrine.

That group, Roman Catholic Faithful, has been unable to back up its claims because, until now, only one of Ryan's purported partners has been willing to go public -- and that person is a former male prostitute and drug addict whose story could not be corroborated.

Nessler's lawsuit, however, claims that three people -- identified in the suit as "John Doe X, John Doe Y and Reverend Father John Doe Z" -- have told their stories to attorneys.

Nessler said Friday the three John Does include a former male prostitute -- Nessler would not say if he is the same person Roman Catholic Faithful identified -- along with a "companion" and a former priest who still lives in Illinois but not Springfield.

Nessler said all three John Does -- and possibly a fourth one -- are willing to reveal their identities, which are already known to the diocese, and air their claims in court.

The allegations against Ryan, who resigned as bishop on Oct. 19, were presented in the suit to try to prove that the former bishop's alleged actions created an atmosphere within the diocese that tolerated child abuse.

The suit contends that permissive atmosphere led to McCormick being abused by the former pastor of St. Maurice Church in Morrisonville.

The priest, Alvin Campbell, now 74, pleaded guilty but mentally ill to similar charges in 1985 and served seven years in prison. He now reportedly lives in Florida.

But whether the case will even get to the testimony stage remains to be seen.

In April, the Catholic Diocese of Peoria settled with a group of men, also represented by Nessler, who claimed they had been abused as minors by Monsignor Norman Goodman, former pastor of Holy Family Catholic Church in Lincoln. The amount of the settlement, which came after mediation between the two sides, was never disclosed.

Goodman did not participate in the settlement. But the counts against him were never heard in court, either. A judge dismissed all but one of the counts against Goodman, and Nessler ultimately withdrew the last count.

As a result, Goodman says he has been cleared of the allegations.

Nessler, whose practice includes cases in personal injury law, wrongful death, worker's compensation and medical malpractice, says it's common for civil lawsuits to end with out-of-court settlements.

In fact, Nessler estimates that 85 percent of the cases he handles end that way. That's typical of the rate of settlements throughout the country, he says.

"If a case is postured correctly and you have your facts in order, oftentimes cases will settle because the other side sees the futility of going forward," he said.

While it is still too early to determine if a settlement will be sought in this case, Nessler said McCormick is interested in seeing the suit go to trial and judgment, if necessary.

"He has never asked to be named as a Doe," Nessler said. "He puts his name out there.

"Our client is very much interested in justice."

McCormick claims that between 1982 and 1985, when he would have been between 13 and 16, Campbell repeatedly had sexual contact with him.

Those types of charges against Campbell, now 74, are nothing new.

In 1985, Campbell pleaded guilty but mentally ill to taking indecent liberties with a child and aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

Campbell admitted having oral sex and fondling at least seven boys between the ages of 11 and 16. Most of the incidents occurred within the same time frame as McCormick's allegations.

When those charges came to light in March 1985, Ryan removed Campbell from St. Maurice and sent him to a New Mexico facility that treated Catholic priests facing similar problems.

Psychiatrists testified that Campbell apparently started having sexual problems at the age of 15, which continued into his adult life.

Campbell served almost seven years of his 14-year prison sentence and was released in 1992.

The new claims come so long after Campbell's original conviction because McCormick didn't realize until last summer that his continuing psychological problems were being caused by the alleged abuse, Nessler said.

That "delayed discovery" claim allowed McCormick to file his suit.

Normally, a plaintiff has only two years to bring a lawsuit. But in a delayed discovery case, the two years begin to be counted only after the realization of the injury, not when the alleged offense took place.

Delayed discovery also was used in the Goodman case, but the judge dismissed many of those claims.

At the time, Peoria County Judge Rebecca Steenrod described their arguments as "incredible" and said the allegations were insufficient to overcome the two-year statute of limitations.

In addition to the charges directly related to Campbell, the suit says Ryan and late bishop Joseph McNicholas covered up Campbell's actions.

While that was happening, the lawsuit states, Ryan was engaging in "multiple homosexual relationships" with prostitutes and priests.

Steven Brady, founder of Roman Catholic Faithful, made similar claims in 1997. Local media at the time didn't report on the accusations because Brady was unable to back up his charges with evidence or credible witnesses.

Nevertheless, Ryan wrote a column in Catholic Times, the weekly diocesan newspaper, denying the charges, although the bishop did not explain the nature of them.

"In the early part of November 1996, I received a message from Mr. Brady containing several vague, unfounded accusations against me, along with threats made to me if I did not resign my pastoral office," Ryan wrote in his column.

"I categorically deny his accusations."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago also started an inquiry into the issue, but the inquiry ended a year ago, with no action by the archdiocese.

"There was nothing that we found out in the inquiry to warrant that any action be taken," said archdiocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer.

State Journal-Register reporters conducted a 1998 interview with the male prostitute who claimed to have had a relationship with Ryan. However, the reporters found inconsistencies in his story and no credible witnesses to support his allegations. The name of the prostitute was given to the media by Brady.

Nessler wouldn't say Friday if that man is one of the John Does in his lawsuit.

Diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass declined to comment Friday on specifics of the lawsuit, although she did point out that the abuse McCormick says took place would have started almost two years before Ryan came to Springfield.

As of late last week, Ryan, who has been recovering from bronchial pneumonia, had no plans to issue another statement in response to the lawsuit.

"What else can he say?" Sass said.

Nessler said it's impossible to say if Ryan's alleged actions will need to be proven in court in order for McCormick's case to be successful. But the allegations were added to the suit to illustrate "the diocese's lack of supervision and control," he said.


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