Peoria Diocese Is Investigating Sex Abuse Claim against Priest
April 30, 2004
Peoria -- The Catholic Diocese of Peoria is investigating allegations that a priest who now heads a Peoria parish and two parochial schools sexually abused a boy nearly 25 years ago, church officials announced Thursday.
Monsignor Thomas R. Miller has been placed on administrative leave and agreed to refrain from all public ministry during the investigation, Bishop Daniel Jenky said.
Efforts to contact the 53-year-old priest were unsuccessful. Calls to the parish rectory said its office was closed Thursday. Diocese spokesman Steven Rohlfs said Miller is staying with friends in northern Illinois.
Jenky said a 36-year-old man reported last week that he was sexually abused by Miller in 1979 while Miller was a priest at Bloomington's Holy Trinity Church, where he served from 1979 to 1983. Jenky authorized an investigation after a diocesan review panel ruled Tuesday that the allegation appears credible.
Miller, who also served at Schlarman High School in Danville and Peoria's St. Bernard Church, has denied some aspects of the allegations and admitted others, Jenky said. He said the church had not received allegations of misconduct by Miller before last week.
A Streator native, Miller is pastor of the 1,600-member St. Vincent de Paul parish in Peoria, which includes a 520-student school for kindergarten through eighth grade. He also oversees Peoria Notre Dame High School for the diocese, and effectively serves as superintendent of the 900-student school, Rohlfs said.
School officials declined comment Thursday.
Rohlfs said the investigation is the first in the 26-county Peoria Diocese since new church guidelines were established for handling sex abuse allegations after the abuse problem rose to national prominence two years ago. Since 1950, 14 priests from the diocese have been accused of sexual misconduct involving minors, according to figures provided for the first church-sanctioned tally of abuse cases.
Jenky said the diocese will launch a full investigation, but did not know how long it might take. He said the results will then go to a national review panel that makes the final ruling in abuse cases.
The bishop called the investigation "an extremely painful moment," and said Miller is "loved and respected by many people."
But he said a key mission of the church is protecting children "and I owe it to the Catholic communities within the diocese and the public in general to explain this unfortunate situation and the difficult but necessary actions I have taken."
Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she is heartened that the diocese followed the new investigation guidelines, but thinks the church doesn't do enough to help victims.
"It's like saying to the victims of a train wreck that once they're removed from the scene, it's all over. Most victims are being left hanging," Blaine said.
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