Bishop Confirms Abuse Allegations

By Edith C Webster
Rockford Register Star
May 8, 2002

ROCKFORD - Bishop Thomas G. Doran confirmed Tuesday that a local Catholic priest had sexually abused three Rockford boys in the 1970s. The bishop also defended the Rockford Diocese's handling of the case.

Doran called a press conference to respond to media inquiries about sexual abuse by the Rev. Harlan Clapsaddle, 57, who developed a relationship with the boys' family while he was a deacon at St. James Church in Rockford. The bishop said Kevin, Craig and Chad Misslich told the diocese about the abuse in December 1996.

"We investigated the charges, determined that they were credible and recommended immediate removal of the priest from his pastoral assignment," Doran said. "This is not a case of a priest doing wrong, then being assigned to another pastoral post and now finally being removed from that post. I am convinced that the diocese acted responsibly."

Kevin Misslich contacted the Rockford Register Star last month after media reports that the Rockford Diocese's sexual abuse policy was being hailed as a national model. Misslich, who lives in New Jersey, said he was saddened by the bishop's statement that the diocese had done all it could.

"The diocese did not deal with me and my family in a compassionate manner," Misslich said. "Their attitude was one of forgive and forget."

After the Misslichs came forward, Clapsaddle was removed from his Dixon parish in January 1997 and sent away for treatment. The family refused the diocese's offer of free "monitored" therapy. Instead, each of the three brothers accepted $27,500 for treatment and signed confidentiality agreements about the settlement.

The bishop stripped Clapsaddle of most of his priestly duties when the diocese first confirmed the allegations. After returning from treatment in summer 1997, the priest was assigned as sacramental minister at Provena Cor Mariae, a nursing home affiliated with a Catholic organization.

Doran called Cor Mariae "a supervised setting," but spokesman Clinton Giese said that Cor Mariae officials knew nothing about Clapsaddle's history until May 1, so they had no reason to monitor his comings and goings.

Clapsaddle resigned from his position at Cor Mariae on May 3 after the Register Star interviewed Doran about the allegations. Officials would not disclose his new location, saying only that he is staying with friends outside of Rockford.

The bishop called sexual abuse "an unspeakable sin and serious crime." He said officials did not take the Misslich allegations to authorities because the statute of limitations had passed and the family did not want the matter handled that way.

"We advised the victims of their right to report their allegations to civil authorities. They told us they did not want to do that," Doran said. "We have respected their wishes for confidentiality."

Kevin Misslich disputed Doran's account of the diocese's response to his family's allegations.

"My family urged the diocese to expose Clapsaddle to the authorities and conduct a full search for other victims," Kevin Misslich said. "We were never told to go to the police. We were encouraged by the diocese to keep quiet. I am outraged and feel further victimized by the diocese's attempts to blame me and my family."

Last week, Doran said that to his knowledge, during his eight years heading this diocese, Clapsaddle is the only priest who has been accused of sexually abusing a child. On Tuesday, the bishop said that another person came forward about six weeks ago with allegations of abuse by Clapsaddle but did not want to go public and had no demands for action.

The bishop encouraged others with any allegations of sexual abuse to go to police and then to contact the diocese.

Contact: ewebster@smtp. 815-987-1394

Where to get help

Resources for people who have been abused:

Misconduct officer, Catholic Diocese of Rockford: 815-962-9347

Rockford Police: 815-987-5800, or call your local police department

Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling: 800-564-8441, 815-636-9811, 815-544-6821

Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests: 312-409-2720 or www.


1977: Harlan Clapsaddle is ordained a priest at St. James Catholic Church in Rockford, the Richard Misslich family's home parish son Kevin Misslich, an eighth-grader, is one of the altar servers at Mass.

Fall 1976 to fall 1979: Clapsaddle develops a relationship with the Misslich family. Three boys in the family say it developed into situations in which the priest molested them.

November/December 1979: When Clapsaddle takes youngest brother Chad on a trip to Disney World, Kevin tells their father that he and another brother were abused by the priest. When the two return from Florida, the father confronts Clapsaddle, and the priest never returns to the Misslich home.

June 24, 1994: Thomas G. Doran is ordained as head of the Rockford Diocese, replacing Arthur J. O'Neill.

Dec. 14, 1996: The Misslichs go on the record with Rockford Diocese officials, detailing the allegations of abuse.

Jan. 8, 1997: Clapsaddle is removed from his position as parish priest at St. Anne's, Dixon, and sent to an undisclosed, out-of-state, private treatment facility.

August 1997: Clapsaddle returns to Illinois. He works as a sacramental minister at Provena Cor Mariae nursing home in Rockford and parish social minister at Catholic Charities.

September 1998: The three Misslich brothers accept the diocese's offer of $27,500 each for treatment and sign a confidentiality agreement about financial details of the settlement.

Feb. 22, 2002: The Observer, the Rockford Diocese's official newspaper, publishes Bishop Doran's column on his "policy of zero tolerance" regarding sexual abuse.

April 5, 2002: The Catholic League hails the Rockford bishop and policy as national models.

April 8, 2002: After reading the Register Star's coverage of the Catholic League announcement, Kevin Misslich contacts the newspaper.

About April 15, 2002: Clapsaddle relieved of duties at Catholic Charities his poor health is given as the reason.

April 29, 2002: The Register Star conducts a three-hour interview with Kevin Misslich and his brothers.

April 30, 2002: The Register Star talks with Clapsaddle at Cor Mariae he denies the allegations.

May 3, 2002: The Register Star interviews Doran about the allegations, which he confirms.

The Observer publishes an article on a Mass celebrating anniversaries of "priestly service," and the list of names includes Clapsaddle for his 25 years. Clapsaddle leaves his position at Cor Mariae his health again is given as the reason.

May 7, 2002: Doran calls a press conference to respond to media inquiries about Clapsaddle. Doran defends how the case was handled.


After undergoing treatment, the Rev. Harlan Clapsaddle was given duties in 1997 at Provena Cor Mariae Center, a Rockford nursing home operated by a Catholic organization. Christina N. Elbers/Rockford Register Star

Kevin Misslich met Harlan Clapsaddle in 1976 when Kevin was a 13-year-old altar server at St. James Catholic Church on North Second Street in downtown Rockford. Clapsaddle was not yet a priest, but a seminarian and deacon. Christina N. Elbers/Rockford Register Star

The Rev. Harlan Clapsaddle was pastor at St. Anne parish in Dixon when the Misslichs took their allegations of sexual abuse to the Rockford Diocese in late 1996. Within a month Clapsaddle was removed from the parish. Eddy Montville/Rockford Register Star


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