Victims Urged to Speak up
Clergy Sex Abuse: Police Want to Know about It; Dioceses Have Different Procedures

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 21, 2002

JOLIET — Even for those who feel helpless after living with tortured memories of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, there are options.

Officials in the Joliet Diocese are asking survivors of such abuse to come to them for counseling. But that may be the last place some would want to go. Many would prefer talking to an officer of the law rather than an officer of the church.

Regardless, all survivors are urged to seek some form of therapy.

But what happens when a survivor goes to police or to diocesan officials depends on each case. The type of abuse, the age of the survivor and the age of the claim are all factors to be considered.

Within the church, the response depends on the diocese.

Both Joliet and Rockford dioceses have had sexual misconduct policies in place since the early 1990s.

Joliet Diocese policy

When someone reports an allegation of sexual abuse in the Joliet Diocese — which covers Will, Grundy, DuPage, Kendall, Kankakee, Iroquois and Ford counties — Bishop Joseph Imesch is notified immediately, and he contacts the accused.

"If there is, according to our policy, credible evidence that these allegations have substance, then the priest is put on administrative leave and is not permitted to function as a priest," said Sister Judith Davies, chancellor of the diocese. "He is not to have contact with the alleged victim or victim's family. He may be limited in contact with minors."

The claim also is reviewed by a committee that includes a retired judge, a former police detective, psychologists, social workers and a bishop's representative — usually Auxiliary Bishop Roger Kaffer, said Davies.

The person who first received the report tells the committee the victim's story. The committee then appoints one of its members, usually a psychiatrist or social worker, to speak to the victim directly.

The committee makes sure the Department of Children and Family Services is notified, and also maintains contact with the accused to keep him informed of procedures.

The Joliet Diocese is reviewing its policy. It may become mandatory for authorities to be contacted, Imesch said.

"Usually there is no need for the diocese to notify police because usually a lawyer (for the victim) has already filed the lawsuit," Imesch said. "But in instances — especially recently — where we have discovered abuse, we inform the state's attorney that there is an allegation."

The bishop is now urging anyone who has been abused to report the incident to the church. That's for two reasons: to minister to the needs of the victim, and to thoroughly investigate the actions of the accused, Joliet diocesan officials have said.

Counseling also can be made available to the victim, Davies said, and the church sometimes offers financial assistance for victims to continue treatment. But the diocese, as a rule, leaves this matter up to victims, she said.

Rockford's policy

In the Rockford Diocese, which covers Kane and 10 other counties, the policy is classified as "zero tolerance."

Yet even though police recommend going to authorities, officials at the Rockford Diocese say it's the victims who drive the process from the start because they decide whom they're going to tell.

"Each case is unique," said Owen Phelps, spokesman for the Rockford Diocese. "Some people just want to get it off their chests. Some don't want to be involved in any criminal proceedings, and that has to be respected for the moment."

Phelps refused to say whether any allegations of sexual misconduct have been made to the diocese, noting that the diocese does not comment on personnel issues.

Once an allegation of abuse is made to any member of the Rockford clergy, Monsignor David Kagan is immediately contacted, Phelps said.

And it's up to Kagan, the diocese's misconduct officer, to make critical decisions within the first few hours after the allegation is made.

"If the allegation has substance, the person is active in a parish ministry, or, God forbid, a youth minister, then that person has to be removed from the position immediately," Phelps said.

The case is then turned over to a committee that includes therapists, church officials and attorneys. Within 48 hours, the team convenes to review the allegations, decide whether Kagan took appropriate action, and whether anything else should be done.

The panel also decides whether the diocese should pay for the victim to seek therapy or be reimbursed for any prior counseling fees, Phelps said.

In Rockford, church officials do not insist the victim contact police, and Kagan weighs the substance of the allegation before contacting police.

Some may be too ashamed to talk to police, or just want closure to the incident. To some, that doesn't mean pressing charges against the alleged abuser, Phelps said.

The victim's well-being must then be considered. Under diocese guidelines, Kagan must explain different options are available to the victim. That could mean filing a police report or counseling.

"We're here if they just want to talk about the allegation," Phelps said. "We also say, 'Now here are some other people you might want to talk to.'"

Phelps compared victims of sexual abuse by clergy to rape victims.

The victim could become more frightened if he knows the police are going to be brought into the situation, and could retract the accusation. In turn, that would hinder the diocese's investigation.

Other counties in the Rockford Diocese are: Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, DeKalb, Ogle, Carroll, Lee and Whiteside.

Importance of therapy

Many adults who were abused as children still seek therapy today, said Dr. John Smith, director of the Childhood Trauma Treatment Center in Bolingbrook.

"Our referrals usually come from other agencies, so there has been an investigation already," Smith said. The center does, however, offer counseling to adults who have never before reported the abuse, he said.

Some form of therapy is important in the recovery process, said Linda Healy, executive director of Mutual Ground, a safe haven for abuse victims in Aurora.

"If the abuse is kept a secret," Healy said, "the person doesn't heal."

Mutual Ground has a sexual assault counseling program that includes a dozen licensed therapists. Many of those abused by clergy who have sought help at Mutual Ground have been adults, Healy added.

But before seeing a therapist, Healy hopes the victim will first head to his local police department before going to the church.

Law enforcement reaction

There has been little police involvement so far in allegations of sex abuse involving the clergy.

Joliet Police Chief Dave Gerdes said that as of Friday, police have received no new reports of sexual abuse that may have happened years ago.

"I'd encourage them to come to us. I'd encourage them to make a report. We'd investigate it and eventually refer it to the state's attorney," Gerdes said.

In some cases, the statute of limitations on an old case of sexual abuse may not have expired if the offender moved out of state.

Will County State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak said he has been in contact with the Diocese of Joliet. He would not comment on what information diocesan officials are offering, but spoke in general terms about how his office prosecutes all cases.

"In the event that an investigation is being conducted, we will obtain all of the information we need using all of the techniques available in our office, including personal interviews (and) subpoena of documents," Tomczak said.

State Sen. Ed Petka, R-Plainfield, served as Will County state's attorney from 1976-87.

"I never had any prosecutions of a Catholic priest. I did prosecute a number of Protestant ministers and convicted them. I did send them to prison," Petka said.

Staff writers Colt Foutz and Kelley Quinn contributed to this report.


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