Cisco Man Sues the Catholic Diocese of Peoria; Claims Priests Sexually Abused Him from 1980 to 1984

By Michael Miller and Andy Kravetz
Copley News Service
February 3, 2004

A 36-year-old man sued the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and three priests Tuesday, alleging he was the victim of hundreds of separate acts of sexual abuse.

Flanked by his attorney, his wife, friends and supporters, Daniel Koenigs of Cisco said he was prepared to come forward now, nearly 20 years after the alleged abuse ended, in the hope that his story could help others.

"Pedophilia is incurable and the only way to stop a pedophile is through containment. That has been proved over and over again," he said. "A pedophile left to his own devices is going to offend again."

The 14-count suit, filed in Peoria County Circuit Court, graphically alleges nearly 30 separate acts of abuse perpetrated by the Revs. Francis Engels, William Harbert and Gregory Plunkett, who later became a priest from 1980 to 1984 while Koenigs was a 13-year-old altar boy in churches in Woodlawn, Cambridge and Walnut.

All three priests were removed from the public ministry. Harbert died in April 2003.

The suit also alleges the abuse occurred on trips to Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin that Koenigs took with the three men.

The graphic details were necessary, Koenigs said, because it's "one thing to know the abuse occurred, but it's another thing to know how it occurred."

"I am the victim," he said. "I went through hell due to some incredibly terrible decisions on their part."

The diocese was aware of one alleged incident that occurred when Koenigs was a minor and before Plunkett was associated with the it. Additionally, according to the diocese, Koenigs has admitted to a consensual sexual encounter with Plunkett when Koenigs was an adult.

"What does that have to do with what happened when he was 13?" asked Koenigs' attorney, Joseph Klest of Schaumburg.

Money wasn't a driving factor behind the suit, he said. Rather, he hopes his public display will encourage others, possibly youths who are now being abused, to come forward and get help.

Also named in the suit was the diocese itself. The suit also alleges diocesan leaders knew about the priests' propensities to be "dangerous childhood sexual abusers" and left the priests in a position of authority.

Koenigs claims Harbert and Engels told him that complaints had been made about them to Bishop Edward W. O'Rourke in the 1970s. However, diocesan attorney Patricia Gibson said there was no record of anyone accusing the two of misconduct prior to 1993.

Koenigs wouldn't have sued the diocese if its response to his claims had been different, he said.

"If only they had come to me when I first went public and said, 'We're sorry, this should never have happened, we were wrong, it won't happen again,' I wouldn't be back here today," Koenigs said, pausing to fight back tears.

But that didn't happen, he said. Rather, the social worker from Cisco, a small town near Decatur, said he's never gotten any type of apology with regard to his accusations.

The Peoria diocese on Tuesday released a Dec. 5, 2002, letter from Bishop Daniel Jenky to Koenigs that it claims starts with an apology.

"Allow me, as bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, to apologize to you for any abuse that you may have ever experienced from anyone associated with our church," Jenky wrote.

Koenigs said through his attorney, though, that he didn't view that letter as an apology.

He said the memories of the abuse were suppressed until two years ago when he was watching a television news story about sexual abuse in the Catholic church. Since then, Koenigs said, he has remembered more and more.

All told, he said, he believes the three men abused him more than 300 times.

A diocesan statement said: "The diocese is disappointed that Mr. Koenigs has chosen this unfortunate avenue to pursue this matter. The diocese has been in frequent contact with Mr. Koenigs since April of 2002 with repeated offers to assist with counseling and is confused and saddened by his course of action."

Gibson also said that Koenigs "pressured the diocese at one point at the time he was purchasing a house in regard to a monetary settlement."

The suit is seeking at least $100,000, the statutory requirement on each count.

Klest said he believed his client had talked to the diocese about a financial settlement at one time.

Koenigs also said that when he met with then-Bishop John Myers, now archbishop of Newark, in October 1993 to tell him that Harbert and Engels had molested him, the bishop said they would never be reinstated to public ministry.

On Tuesday, Koenigs said Engels was reinstated in 2001. Gibson said such a request had been made but refused.


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