Cloak of Secrecy
Men Alleging They Were Abused by Joliet Diocese Priests Step Forward with Their Stories

By Ted Slowik
Herald News
August 11, 2002

JOLIET — The Cathedral of St. Raymond runs one of the finest schools, public or private, in Joliet. Three generations have been educated there, and most graduates fondly recall memories of class trips, sporting events and other school functions.

But several men in their 30s and 40s know a different side of St. Ray's, one where priests preyed on boys to satisfy their sexual desires. Some who were abused as boys are breaking the silence, and their stories indicate that sexual abuse of minors by clergy was much more widespread than diocesan officials are willing to admit.

The Joliet Diocese, already tarnished by the removal this year of 10 priests because of claims of past sexual misconduct, is about to be thrust into the spotlight again.

Priests practiced sexual deviance on boys at the Cathedral of St. Raymond. Ministers, like Richard Ruffalo (highlighted), took elaborate care to groom these boys, to build up trust, but the end was evil � and nobody in power would stop them.
Photo by SCNmedia

Ruffalo left debts of $95,150 when he died, mostly to credit card companies.

An attorney who says he was sexually abused by Ruffalo kept a credit card

he says the priest gave him and encouraged him to use.

Joliet attorney Keith Aeschliman says that this week he'll file the first of at least a dozen civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by 11 different Joliet Diocese priests over the years.

An examination of abuses at St. Ray's — the hub of the seven-county, 50-year-old Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet — sheds light on how widespread misconduct by diocesan priests went undetected for so long. Court records and interviews with abuse survivors, diocesan insiders and others indicate that priests lacked oversight and had free reign to do as they pleased.

On the other hand, interviews with church officials, parents and former teachers illustrate that priests hid their criminal behavior and used their positions of trust to remain above suspicion. It's especially difficult for some to reconcile the paradox of how men who performed so many good deeds in public behaved so deplorably in private.

A Herald News investigation focused on three priests who served at St. Ray's in the 1970s and 1980s: Lawrence Mullins, Anthony J. Ross and Richard Ruffalo.

Ruffalo was ordained in 1959 and served at parishes in Kankakee and Rockdale before coming to St. Ray's in 1969. He was an energetic and dynamic preacher who also taught religion in schools. Before his death in 1997 at age 62, he said the Tridentine, or Latin Mass, at Holy Cross Church in Joliet. He was master of ceremonies at the cathedral, a plum post that afforded him the opportunity to make friends with influential people.

Richard Ruffalo molested at least two adolescent boys, stole from collections at St. Raymond, bought beer and wine for underage boys, and took them to dinner at fine restaurants, and on frequent trips to Las Vegas, his alleged victims said.
Photo by SCNmedia

He also was a thief who molested at least two adolescent boys, his alleged victims said. He bought beer and wine for underage boys whom he took out to dinner at fine restaurants, his accusers say. He took boys with him on frequent trips to Las Vegas, where he kept a second residence and car. He paid for his extravagant lifestyle with credit cards and left debts of more than $95,000 when he died.

In 1975, he was named pastor of St. Mary's in Park Forest, where he befriended an altar boy named Jimmy Komp. Komp's principal was Sister Judith Davies, now diocesan chancellor and chief spokesperson.

As an eighth-grade graduation present, Ruffalo paid for Komp and another altar boy to fly first-class to California, Komp said. Also along on that trip was Robert Pirc, who was principal of the Cathedral of St. Raymond School in the 1970s and late 1990s.

Komp said Ruffalo knew the manager of the Las Vegas Hilton, Art Donovan, who welcomed the priest and his guests into his home. Donovan would show wide-eyed boys the hotel room where Elvis Presley stayed, which still had bullet holes in the wall from when the king of rock 'n' roll fired his gun at the TV.

"(Ruffalo) wanted us to feel so special, so elite, that no one else mattered," says Komp, now a 38-year-old father of two.

Ruffalo and other priests groomed boys, building up their trust for years before initiating inappropriate contact, his accusers said. One man, now an attorney practicing in Joliet, said the culture of abuse was so insidious and pervasive at St. Ray's that classmates' reaction about recent coverage is, "What took you so long?"

Both Komp and the attorney said Ruffalo fondled them in his car on more than one occasion. Although they resisted the advances, they had become too close to him to break off all contact, they said.

"I really enjoyed being with these people. Looking back, that's the whole process of being manipulated," Komp says.

During another trip to Las Vegas with Ruffalo, Komp says he saw another priest, the Rev. John Slown, molest an altar boy in a hot tub at Donovan's home. Slown was convicted of sexually abusing a boy in DuPage County in 1983 and was defrocked. Contacted by phone at his home in Colorado, Slown said he left the priesthood because he was alcoholic and refused to discuss his sexual abuse conviction.

Komp says he told Ruffalo what he saw in the hot tub, and Ruffalo assured him that he would "take care of it." Witnessing Slown abuse the boy was Komp's first indication these priests expected some form of repayment for the gifts and attention they showered on boys.

Pirc, a respected administrator and accomplished musician, is retired and living in Nevada. Contacted by phone, he was asked whether he was surprised to learn that men are now stepping forward to report incidents involving St. Ray's priests that happened more than 20 years ago.

"No, not really. Not in light of what's going on" with the crisis in the Catholic church, Pirc said, declining to answer more specific questions.

Ruffalo's accusers describe Pirc as a close friend of Ruffalo's who should have known of the priest's activities. School administrators would have been obliged to report any suspicions of sexual abuse by priests who taught in schools to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, under the terms of the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act of 1975.

Several sources said St. Ray's priests would often pull altar boys out of classes to serve a funeral. But instead of returning to class, the priest would let the boys hang out at the rectory, where they could smoke cigars and drink beer or unconsecrated wine, alumni said. Priests would sometimes take the boys shopping or to run errands, not returning them to class until well into the afternoon.

"(Ruffalo would) always say as he was pulling us out of class, 'I don't know if I'm going to get away with what I got away with at St. Ray's because Sister Judith is a little bit tougher,' but he did it anyway," Komp says.

Having no reason to suspect why they were being used, the boys didn't discourage the activities, and not all boys who experienced priests' delinquent behavior wound up being abused.

"We used them as much as they used us," said the attorney who says he was abused by Ruffalo. The man, like other alumni and diocesan insiders interviewed for this piece, asked that his name not be used because he is still active in the church and fears retribution.

In addition to alcohol and gifts, some priests manipulated boys into relationships by letting them drive their cars, even if they had no license and had been drinking, Komp and the attorney said.

The attorney said he thought of coming forward in 1998, when Komp sued the diocese and posted fliers on the windshields of cars at St. Ray's and other parishes, seeking other victims of Ruffalo. But he reasoned that Komp was merely trying to extort money from the diocese, and didn't want to encourage that.

The lawyer did, however, produce a credit card that he says Ruffalo gave him and encouraged him to use. It was one of many Ruffalo possessed, the probate file shows, and the priest made minimal monthly payments on several cards that he used to pay for airline tickets and meals.

When he died, Ruffalo left debts totaling $95,150 to 27 different creditors, according to a Will County court probate file. A few thousand dollars worth of debts were medical expenses, but most of the bills were owed to banks and credit card companies, including Citibank: $10,518; Chase Manhattan: $9,105; Harris Bank: $7,451; AT&T Universal Card: $6,387; and First Card Services: $7,480.

Ruffalo died of complications from a stroke a year before Komp filed his lawsuit, which he would eventually settle for an undisclosed amount. A Herald News article about Ruffalo's funeral quoted Davies, the nun, this way:

"There were four sisters at the (St. Mary's) convent at the time. And he would occasionally tell us to go out to dinner and he would pay for it. His generosity was felt by many," Davies said in 1997.

The attorney told classmates and friends about Ruffalo's abuse, but not his parents, police or church authorities. Komp kept his experience secret for 17 years, finally seeking counseling in 1997, a few months before Ruffalo died. Since coming forward, Komp has become estranged from his siblings and parents, whom he partly blames for allowing him to consort with Ruffalo and the priest's circle of associates.

His parents "wanted it swept under the rug" when they learned of the abuse, Komp said. "They knew I was out boozing it up with Ruffalo. Other kids would come home drunk, and, boom, we never saw that kid again, because those parents either said to their son, 'That's it,' or they went to Ruffalo and said, 'You don't need to be feeding my kid beer. He's only 15,' or, God, 12 years old, because that's when this started, in seventh and eighth grades," Komp said.

Records show Ruffalo's estate was not without some money: $2,000 in memorials and gifts were received in his name. His 1991 Buick Park Avenue was sold for $9,000 and a 1990 Chevy Lumina was sold for $4,000. Half interest in a mobile home in Nevada was sold for $3,630. But once funeral expenses of $9,040 were paid, and diocesan attorney James Byrne received legal fees of $9,487 for handling the estate, there was nothing left to pay creditors.

The homily at Ruffalo's funeral was said by the Rev. Robert Jaeger, a former student of Ruffalo's at St. Ray's who became his close friend. Jaeger was named the beneficiary of Ruffalo's estate, and one of the credit cards was issued in the names of both priests.

Jaeger, now a priest in the Diocese of Colorado Springs, wrote a letter in response to inquiries about Ruffalo's lifestyle and finances. He called Ruffalo an "exceptional" priest and educator.

"While at St. Ray's he taught full time and helped many young people to learn more about their faith," Jaeger wrote.

Jaeger wrote that Ruffalo offered to help pay for the mobile home that was Jaeger's residence when he moved to Las Vegas because Ruffalo wanted to use it as a vacation home. People assumed Ruffalo's family had money, and no one suspected he was having trouble paying his bills, his friend wrote.

"I don't think anyone realized how much in debt he was. As for the church or his superiors having knowledge of his finances, they most likely wouldn't," Jaeger wrote.

Similarly, no one questioned the frequency of Ruffalo's trips or his travel companions, Jaeger wrote.

"Unless something was brought to the attention of the diocese about his excessive trips or spending or who he traveled with, no one would ask any questions," Jaeger wrote.

Since none of Ruffalo's alleged victims publicly reported claims about his behavior until after his death, parishioners and diocesan officials had no reason to believe he was anything but a good man, his friend said.

"He seemed to be caring and thoughtful to everyone. He helped many people, who I'm sure find it difficult to think he had any sexual difficulties," Jaeger wrote.

The diocese did not pay off Ruffalo's credit card debts or medical expenses after the estate was finally settled in 2000, Davies said.

"Any time a priest would die and have debts, those debts would be paid from the priest's estate," she said.

Another priest caught Ruffalo stealing from the collections at St. Ray's in 1975, the attorney said. At St. Ray's, Ruffalo counted the Sunday collections, often enlisting several boys to help on a Monday, the attorney said. During one visit to Las Vegas, Ruffalo told the other priest not to bother counting the weekend's donations, that he would do it when he returned, the attorney said.

The other priest, already suspecting that Ruffalo was stealing, counted the money and placed it back in the safe, the attorney said. After Ruffalo returned and counted the collection, the other priest counted it again, and about $1,500 was missing, the attorney said.

The diocese claims no knowledge of Ruffalo's thefts, even though several sources said that was the reason the priest was transferred from St. Ray's.

"If anything happened at the parish level, it would have been dealt with by the pastor. There is nothing in Ruffalo's file to indicate this was made known to the bishop at the time," who was the Rev. Romeo Blanchette, Davies said.

George Fehrenbacher, who graduated from St. Ray's in 1978, says Mullins fondled him on at least two occasions when the priest visited the family's home and at least once at the rectory. The first incident happened when he was about 12 years old, he said.

Fehrenbacher, who now lives in Arkansas with his wife and two young children, said he began seeking counseling for personal problems a couple of years ago.

"I'm just now realizing the problem is that I was introduced to sex at such a young age by a priest," he said.

Fehrenbacher, whose family owned a clothing store in downtown Joliet for many years, is no longer a Catholic, he said.

"The church needs to come forth with what's going on," he said.

Three former basketball players at St. Ray's said Mullins fondled them in the same manner, by putting his hand in their pants. Some of the incidents happened in a changing room after practice, alumni said.

"The long-running joke was: Don't be the last one to get dressed," said one alumnus, now a teacher in the Joliet area.

Mullins' reputation was well-known among classmates.

"I'd see him coming, and I'd just avoid him," says another alumnus, who went on to earn a medical degree.

Since the clergy abuse scandal erupted earlier this year, five men have told The Herald News they were fondled by Mullins.

"For sure, I only know of one: me," said one alumnus.

The man, now married with three children, said the experience left him "wanting nothing to do with the Catholic church." He said Mullins kept gay pornography in the rectory, which the priest would encourage boys to peruse.

A Joliet Diocese priest, who asked to not be named, says he once discovered gay pornography in Mullins' car when he went to retrieve a holy book from the vehicle. The license plate on Mullins' car was "HOLY 1."

Former colleagues of Mullins' are astounded to hear of the allegations.

"He was always around the kids, but I never suspected anything," said Kevin Newquist, who taught mathematics at St. Ray's and coached one of the boys basketball teams.

Newquist said he and his wife were good friends with Mullins years ago. When the priest was transferred to Naperville, the couple moved there because they liked Mullins' preaching so much.

Even in the trusting climate of the time, teachers were careful not to allow situations where inappropriate conduct could have occurred, such as an adult being in a room alone with a child, Newquist said.

"I never stumbled across any situation where (Mullins) was alone with a player. It didn't happen on my watch," he said.

Since leaving the priesthood nine years ago, Mullins has lived in the Washington, D.C., area. After living in Elmhurst and Naperville, Mullins moved to Alexandria, Va., according to a service that tracks public records.

Attempts to contact Mullins at his home were unsuccessful.

In a recent interview, Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch said he has "no idea" why Mullins left the priesthood in 1993. However, a 1997 letter shows that diocesan officials knew of allegations about Mullins, and that his departure from the priesthood was not voluntary. Auxiliary Bishop Roger Kaffer wrote the letter, dated Aug. 19, 1997, to a man who inquired about Mullins' status.

"I hasten to assure you that Larry Mullins was removed from ministry several years ago and is no longer an active priest," Kaffer wrote.

A former altar boy who is now a teacher in the Joliet area said that after Mullins fondled him, he told another priest about the incident. The priest he told was Anthony J. Ross, who was known as A.J. when he served at St. Ray's from 1977-80.

A.J. Ross, 57, and Mullins competed for boys, said the man and his parents. Ross would often win out because he had more money. Unlike priests of religious orders, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty.

But Mullins, the de facto pastor of St. Ray's, was able to get Ross and another priest he didn't like transferred, said a clergy member who knew the men.

Ross was raised in Addison. His father, Anthony Ross Sr., built homes and had connections with several local banks. Organized-crime figured into the family lineage.

The former altar boy said A.J. Ross would often take boys to a cabin the priest's family owned near Lake Geneva, Wis. Ross befriended several boys, building up their trust by enabling the adolescents to drink alcohol, skip classes and engage in other behavior their parents would have frowned upon, had they known.

Ross bought gifts for the former altar boy and tried to ingratiate himself into the family, the mother said. But Ross seemed stuck in adolescence himself and had trouble relating to other adults, she said.

One warm summer night, Ross called the home and asked for the youth, who wasn't home. He wound up talking to the mother, telling her he was lounging naked in the rectory because of the heat.

Larry Mullins, 52, began serving at St. Ray's several months before he was ordained in 1977. His father was a Chicago Fire Department battalion chief, and his parents raised 13 children in Chicago. Mullins was chaplain for the Joliet Fire Department during his tenure at St. Ray's.

Mullins took over Ruffalo's job as master of ceremonies and became the "golden boy" of St. Ray's rector, the Rev. Thomas B. O'Keefe, who was pastor from 1969 until his death in 1985.

"Mullins was the unappointed pastor. O'Keefe surrendered the day-to-day operations to him. If you had a problem, you went to Mullins," said one clergy member who asked that his name not be used.

By all accounts, O'Keefe was a great man. Soon after he was ordained in 1943, he was named an associate pastor at St. Ray's and founded the Catholic Youth Organization that organized basketball leagues and provided other activities for thousands of youths in Joliet.

But in the later years of his life, as O'Keefe was dying from cancer, he used alcohol to ease his suffering and kept to himself, those who knew him said. Boys who visited the rectory said they never saw O'Keefe, who would use a private staircase to go from his second-floor apartment to a bar in the basement. O'Keefe paid little attention to what his associates were doing in their first-floor apartments, victims of abuse said.

Mullins was well-liked and respected. When he left St. Ray's in 1983, he served at Immaculate Conception Parish in Elmhurst and St. Margaret Mary Parish in Naperville. The Web site of the Naperville parish describes his service there between 1988 and 1993, when he left the priesthood suddenly "for health reasons":

"During Fr. Larry's five years with St. Margaret Mary, he captured the hearts of the parishioners, particularly the young members," the Web site states.

According to several St. Ray's alumni, Mullins fondled many boys by forcing his hand into their pants. One man says that when he was a boy, the priest asked him during confession if he masturbated. The man says Mullins fondled him once when the priest took him along to the scene of a fire.

The mother says she realized that Ross' behavior at the other end of the line was odd, but couldn't conceive at the time that he was capable of sexually abusing a minor. She regrets not spotting the warning signs.

"It was bizarre. It was a stupid conversation. But I didn't connect it to sexual deviance," she said.

In 1981, after Ross had left St. Ray's and was serving at St. Peter the Apostle in Itasca, the 15-year-old former altar boy and another youth went to visit Ross. The priest gave the alcohol to the boys, who wound up spending the night at Ross' residence. (Ruffalo earlier had served at St. Peter the Apostle, and its pastor, the Rev. Donald Pock, was removed in April because of sexual misconduct allegations.)

In the middle of the night, Ross performed a sex act on the 15-year-old boy, who pretended to be asleep, he said. In the morning, Ross acted as if nothing had happened, the abuse victim said.

In January 1983, Ross was sent to undergo counseling at the House of Affirmation in Montera, Calif., a facility where priests with sexual disorders received treatment. Ross' situation illustrates how ineffective the treatments were at the time. Ross' letters indicate he didn't take the "punishments" seriously, that he knew after a few months of counseling he would be back in another parish.

For starters, Ross was given a ride to California by two other teen-age boys from Joliet, said the abuse victim's mother, a former Catholic school principal. From California, Ross wrote to her son, then 17.

" And I got snowed in for a few days on the way out here but otherwise the trip was uneventful, thank God. The program here is pretty good. I have personal therapy twice a week, group therapy twice a week, art and dance therapy and several other things so it's busy but not hectic," Ross wrote.

The priest wrote that he had time to visit the ocean and Gold's Gym in San Francisco ("Talk about heavenly bodies," he wrote.) He told the boy he might remain in California for as long as a year.

"So please don't forget me. You know that I love you and care about you very much. How I need to know and feel your love and care for me. That's the best medicine I can get," Ross wrote. He also asked the teen to have someone take pictures of him "clothed and unclothed" so the priest "wouldn't forget what you look like."

The boy's mother discovered the letters on Valentine's Day, 1983. Within days, the parents confronted Imesch, who has headed the Joliet Diocese since 1979. Imesch wasn't going to do anything, the parents recalled, and told them to find it in their hearts to forgive the wayward priest. But Kaffer, the auxiliary bishop and a friend of the family, assured the parents that Ross would no longer serve as a priest, they said.

In fact, Ross returned to the Joliet Diocese and served at three more parishes in DuPage County until 1993. That's when the former altar boy confronted Imesch himself, and demanded Ross' removal from the priesthood.

Instead, Ross transferred to the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Calif. The California diocese describes Ross' transfer as voluntary, but the abuse victim's mother said it was anything but. Ross didn't want to leave the friendly surroundings of the Joliet Diocese, she said, but Imesch forced him to go.

In April, when the Santa Rosa Diocese removed Ross from his post as a prison chaplain, Ross issued a statement in which he apologized to the man he abused as a boy in Joliet. The man, however, still feels bitter about the way the incident was handled.

"He committed an offense that changed my life forever. His life did not change. He was given therapy to supposedly 'cure' his illness. He was given a new assignment. He was allowed to go on with his life and with his profession. In any other profession in the United States of America, he would have been finished, forever," the man said.

Attempts to contact Ross were unsuccessful.

Several factors contributed to the silence about sexual abuse by priests and allowed the crimes to remain undetected, or at least unpunished, for so many years.

For starters, victims of abuse say they were too embarrassed to tell their parents or others in positions of authority about what had happened. Or they were afraid they would not be believed. Some say their abusers threatened to harm them if they told anyone.

In some instances, they did tell someone within the church, such as when the boy fondled by Mullins told Ross, or Komp told Ruffalo he saw Slown abusing another boy, and they ended up being abused by the trusted figures in whom they confided.

Some parents who did learn of abuse chose to not tell civil authorities, because, they said, of the church's reputation for "revictimizing" people through the use of aggressive legal tactics. Instead of showing compassion for victims or attempting to ascertain the truth, parents said, diocesan officials tried to discredit witnesses and blame accusers for encouraging the inappropriate behavior. Others said that as Catholics, they shared the diocese's goal of wanting to avoid a scandal.

Then, there was the lack of supervision of priests at St. Ray's by the pastor, O'Keefe, who was withdrawn because of his illness. O'Keefe was a stern man who would not have tolerated inappropriate conduct by associates, had he known, those who knew him said.

Pirc, the principal for several years in the 1970s, should have known that Ruffalo and other priests spent an inordinate amount of time with boys and should have suspected that inappropriate behavior was taking place, but did nothing to stop it, victims of abuse said. When parents or others did report abuse, the diocese responded by transferring priests to other parishes. Imesch has said that was standard practice at the time, that church officials believed they were acting appropriately. Before the diocese, in 1991, created a review board of lay persons and others chosen by the bishop, the diocese investigated claims of abuse on its own. The person in charge of investigating was the chancellor or the vicar for priests, said Davies, the current chancellor.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, the vicar for priests and chancellor was Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Ryan. Ryan left Joliet in 1983, when he was named bishop of the Diocese in Springfield. He stepped down in 1999, the day after a civil lawsuit was filed accusing Ryan of knowing that a priest of the Springfield Diocese had abused a young male, but did nothing to stop it. The suit, which is still pending three years later in Sangamon County, claims Ryan was compromised because he engaged in homosexual affairs with young men and prostitutes. Three men, in sworn affadavits, claimed they had had sexual encounters with Ryan.

Ryan admitted no wrongdoing, saying he was "retiring early," a full six years shy of the mandatory retirement age. He is still a priest in high regard. Last year he confirmed eighth-graders at St. Ray's and nine other Joliet Diocese parishes and said a commencement Mass at Lewis University. He participated in Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Fitzgerald's installation ceremony at the cathedral in March, and a small group of protesters publicly railed Ryan's involvement.

A fourth man, a longtime Joliet Diocese priest who asked that his name not be used, told The Herald News that Ryan made a sexual advance toward him about 20 years ago. The priest accompanied the auxiliary bishop on an overnight stay to help confirm youngsters at remote parishes in the diocese and spent a night in a motel.

After a Friday evening confirmation, Ryan had been given a bottle of scotch and had several drinks, the priest said. Ryan invited the other priest to his room for a drink.

"As I was leaving, Ryan tried to kiss me. It was no hug, and he groped me. I told him he was drunk and needed to go to bed. I left and bolted my room door," the priest said.

The priest reported the incident to then-Auxiliary Bishop Raymond James Vonesh, he said.

"Bishop Vonesh did not seem surprised, but he told me to inform Bishop Imesch. When I did, I was so shamed by (Imesch). After leaving, I felt like I had done something wrong. I will not soon forget that conversation, but I did not know where to go with what had happened," the priest said.

A spokeswoman for the Springfield Diocese said Ryan was not available for comment.

Last year, in an interview with the Catholic Times, the newspaper of the Springfield Diocese, Ryan told a reporter about living at that diocese's retirement center for priests.

"You're looking at one happy camper," Ryan told the newspaper. "I feel like this is home. The retirement center is a wonderful place. It is like living in a park — beautifully landscaped, mature trees, lovely roads and walkways to move about. Being quite set back from the street, it is nice and quiet."

Questions about complicity by civil authorities also have been raised. When asked why so many abusive priests were never charged with crimes, Imesch blamed prosecutors for failing to pursue cases.

From 1976-87, the Will County state's attorney was Ed Petka, now a state senator and a longtime parishioner at St. Mary Immaculate Church in Plainfield. And in the 1980s, the DuPage County state's attorney was Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, the Republican nominee for governor, who attended a high school seminary and describes himself as a devout Catholic.

Petka has said his office didn't prosecute any Catholic priests during his 12 years as state's attorney because no victim was willing to pursue criminal charges. Petka was in office when Lawrence Gibbs was removed from the priesthood when a highly publicized civil lawsuit was filed in 1993, and Imesch has said he regrets transferring Gibbs to other parishes after he was informed of sexual abuse allegations about the priest.

Finally, prior to this year's coverage by The Boston Globe of widespread sexual abuse by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, nationwide media coverage of the issue was scant, with the exception of the National Catholic Reporter newspaper. Aeschliman, the Joliet attorney who has represented numerous victims of sexual abuse, went so far as to take out an ad in The Herald News in 1993. The ad asked victims of abuse to come forward and accused the newspaper of willfully ignoring the issue by failing to report on it.

Today, many Joliet-area Catholics say they're withholding contributions to the diocese's annual appeal, and some say they're giving money directly to charities.

The diocese says it will disclose how much money it has spent to settle claims with victims, defend lawsuits and provide counseling to victims and priests who abused, but won't say when the information will be released.

Many parishioners say they're troubled by reports of abuse, but glad to see the truth come out. Many say they want punishments handed down to priests who abused and accountability from those who helped cover up the crimes.

Komp hears church officials' words of apology for the pain they have caused, but finds them hollow and meaningless.

"Nothing's changed. There's nothing that's so alarming in 2002 that wasn't there in 1996 or 1990. The same issues are still on the table. They still have not even addressed them. It's a joke," he said.


A note from the publisher:

"Why now?" That was my immediate reaction when I learned that reporter Ted Slowik's two-month investigation of alleged clergy abuse was ready for publication. It seems that I had become, perhaps, wary of criticism that might be lobbed at The Herald News for its continuing coverage of a painful subject.

In my reading and re-reading of this story, it became apparent that dutiful Herald News coverage for the past five months had not been enough. Our coverage chiefly had been about what had happened. We had not yet been able to question subjects "on the record" about how a pattern of suspicious behavior among a very few, high-profile church leaders could have escaped the notice of school and church insiders as well as parents and the laity.

Some reading this will not agree with the decision to publish this story. So be it. Others will say that this is a story all must know. In the words of one subject interviewed for the story, "What took you so long?" Now that sources have agreed to be named, responsible community journalism dictates that this story be told.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.