Former Bishop Investigated

By Lisa Kernek
State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)
August 15, 2002

Newly public allegations that retired Catholic Bishop Daniel Ryan solicited sex from a 15-year-old boy in 1984 have prompted the Springfield Diocese to refer the case to the Sangamon County state's attorney and to an independent review board of laypeople.

The detailed allegations, which surfaced in court papers filed last month, also accuse Ryan of making sexual advances toward a priest in the mid-1980s. The priest is named in the documents. The statute of limitations bars the state's attorney from prosecuting the case involving the minor, said Sheryl Essenburg, an assistant state's attorney who handles sex crimes against children.

However, the Springfield Diocese, which Ryan led from 1984 to 1999, has referred the allegations involving the minor for review by a board of laypeople in another diocese, said diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass.

The Springfield Diocese's own board of laypeople, created in 1994 to review allegations of sexual abuse of minors, includes members who were appointed by Ryan when he was still bishop. As a result, the allegations were referred to an outside board to avoid a conflict of interest, Sass said.

The Springfield Diocese in 1994 adopted a policy for investigating allegations of abuse of minors, and that policy required that the allegations be referred to the state's attorney, she said.

Ryan, who stepped down as leader of the diocese in 1999, and current Bishop George Lucas declined comment through Sass.

Ryan also has suspended all public appearances, Sass said. Since his retirement, he had filled in for vacationing priests, saying Mass for groups of sisters in their chapels and doing confirmations in central Illinois and in the Joliet Diocese, where he served prior to becoming bishop in Springfield.

Ryan has repeatedly been accused by a Petersburg-based, self-styled "orthodox" Catholic group, Roman Catholic Faithful, and in a 3-year-old lawsuit of having homosexual encounters with prostitutes and priests. Until recently, however, only one man - an admitted prostitute and petty criminal named Frank Bergen -- had come forward with specific allegations.

Bergen is one of the four people identified in the court papers, which were filed in July as part of a lawsuit brought against the Springfield Diocese in 1999. Two of the others, identified in the documents as Frank Sigretto and Danny Evans, also have long arrest histories.

The fourth person, John Reeves, is a former Roman Catholic priest who was excommunicated in 1995 after affiliating himself with an independent "Catholic" church whose tenets differ with standard Catholic doctrines on a variety of topics, including ordination of homosexuals and marriage of gay couples.

The allegations against the bishop at first glance appear unrelated to the premise of the lawsuit. The plaintiff, Matthew McCormick, filed suit over abuse he allegedly suffered at the hands of a Morrisonville priest, the Rev. Alvin Campbell, when McCormick was a boy in the 1980s.

Campbell was convicted of abusing at least seven boys in 1985 and sentenced to prison. McCormick said he hadn't filed his suit earlier because he hadn't realized the extent of the harm done to him until he was older.

McCormick's attorney, Frederic Nessler of Springfield, has charged that multiple homosexual relationships by Ryan created an "atmosphere of tolerance to the sexual abuse of minors."

In 1997, Ryan denied Roman Catholic Faithful's accusations of sexual misconduct in his column in the weekly Catholic Times, the diocesan newspaper, the same week that Steve Brady, the group's leader, held a news conference publicizing his accusations.

Ryan resigned as bishop in October 1999, one week before McCormick's case was filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court. He maintained at the time, however, that his resignation was unrelated to the allegations of sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic Faithful, and Sass also said Nessler's threatened suit had no bearing on the decision.

While bishop, Ryan had undergone treatment for alcoholism and had battled other health problems, and he was 69 when he retired.

The documents filed in July contain detailed written statements from the four men, all of whom say they were targets of sexual advances by Ryan. The statements were filed in response to requests from the diocese's attorneys for more documents, Nessler said Wednesday.

The youngest of the four, Frank Thomas Anthony Sigretto, said in a two-page affidavit that, in August 1984, he was walking near South Grand Avenue when Ryan approached him in a gold car and offered him a ride. Sigretto, now 33, was 15 at the time.

Sigretto told the attorney interviewing him for the affidavit that the bishop took him to the rectory at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. There, the teenager said, Ryan allegedly offered Sigretto $50 to take off his clothes and let Ryan massage him with baby oil. During the massage, Sigretto said, he successfully resisted Ryan's attempts to have sex with him.

On a later occasion, Sigretto said, the bishop offered him a ride, but Sigretto recognized him and refused.

Sigretto's statement is dated June 12. He passed a lie-detector test, the documents show.

Sigretto was not a prostitute but a "victim," Nessler, the attorney who interviewed him for the affidavit, said.

"He's a kid, 13 or 14 years old, that's offered 50 bucks," Nessler said. (Actually, Sigretto would have been 15 at the time of his alleged encounter with Ryan.)

Sigretto has a history of arrests on charges including burglary, aggravated battery and possession of marijuana, according to court records.

The documents also include a statement from an excommunicated priest, the Rev. John Reeves, who said that Ryan had made sexual advances over a period of years.

In a seven-page statement written in the first person and filed with the court, Reeves said he and Ryan had traveled and dined together, shared motel rooms, visited bathhouses and taken vacations to the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico. In his statement, Reeves portrayed Ryan as a sexual harasser and said he was afraid to reject Ryan's advances for fear he would not be ordained a priest. Reeves said he continued to travel with the bishop even after he was ordained.

The encounters allegedly began in the fall of 1984, when Reeves was an acolyte at St. Paul's Church in Highland and Ryan asked him to accompany him to Chicago for a meeting. They shared a motel room, where Ryan emerged from a shower, Reeves said, and "looked me straight in the eyes and told me he loved me immensely. I think I told him I loved him too, and suddenly he grabbed me and started hugging me, kissing me on the lips and rubbing my back."

Reeves added: "I remember feeling very tense and uneasy and awkward because this was my bishop doing this to me."

Reeves never reported the Chicago encounter and continued to travel with Ryan to other events where the pair ended up spending the night in a motel or in the bishop's private living quarters at the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception rectory. Reeves said he experienced at least 15 more encounters with Ryan that fall.

The encounters allegedly continued after Ryan ordained Reeves as a deacon in December 1984 and then as a priest in May 1985. Included were vacations in the Cayman Islands and Puerto Rico, Reeves said.

The encounters subsided in 1988 after Reeves left Highland for St. Brigid parish in Liberty, where Reeves began a relationship with another man. Reeves went on to serve parishes in Decatur and Alton. But after a dispute with parishioners over Reeves' dismissal of a principal in Alton, he asked the diocese for a leave of absence around Christmas 1992.

Reeves earned a master's degree in social work, and in January 1995, he became affiliated with the Ecumenical Catholic Church (since renamed the Catholic Church of the Americas) - which, despite the name, is not affiliated with the Roman Catholic denomination - and began leading services in Jacksonville.

Soon after, he received a letter from the Springfield Diocese informing him that his new affiliation had resulted in his automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. Members of the Catholic Church of the Americas disagree with Roman Catholic teachings on abortion, contraception, euthanasia and assisted suicide, as well as ordination of women and homosexuals and marriage of gay couples.

In 1996, the Jacksonville ECC church burned to the ground.

Reeves, reached Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he is now bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese of the independent Catholic Church of the Americas, and that his diocese includes several Southeastern states. Reeves, 50, also said that he lives openly as a couple with the man he met while at St. Brigid parish.

Danny Evans reported that he was working as a prostitute when he met Ryan for the first time in 1985, he told Nessler in 1999. A 14-page transcript of the interview with Nessler is among the documents filed with the court in July.

Evans, now 36, said he went to motels with Ryan on more than 50 occasions from the 1980s through the late 1990s, where he would let the bishop massage him for $50 or more per encounter. Evans also said that Ryan took him on trips to Indiana, Ohio, Chicago and Wisconsin, with some trips as recent as 1998.

Evans has a history of arrests for charges including possession of drug paraphernalia, domestic battery and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, according to court records.

Bergen's 11-page handwritten statement is dated May 27, 1999. Bergen reported that he was a drug addict and that the bishop gave him money for sex when he was 16 and 17 years old.

Prior to last month's filing of Bergen's statement, Roman Catholic Faithful had publicized his allegations and circulated them to the media.

Although Bergen, now 34, alleges he was underage when he had encounters with Ryan, diocese officials found inconsistencies in his statements and did not refer his case to the state's attorney, said Sass, the diocese spokeswoman.

Bergen has a prison record. His convictions include burglary, theft and the intentional spread of the AIDS-causing HIV virus.


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