Bishop Talks Forgiveness; Man Sees Lawyers
Diocese under Fire: Man Takes Sex-Abuse Claim to Prosecutors

By Ted Slowik
The Herald News
April 25, 2002

JOLIET — Bishop Joseph Imesch preached about forgiveness Wednesday morning to schoolchildren and parishioners at the Cathedral of St. Raymond.

Imesch did not mention the clergy abuse scandal that has shaken the diocese he has headed since 1979. But he did tell the church full of youngsters about the importance of treating others with respect.

"Every one of us needs to be forgiven. We don't always live the way God wants us to," Imesch said. "We try to be kind, but we are not always kind."

Imesch, 70, has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in the past month for his handling of priests accused of sexual abuse over the years. Five Joliet priests have been recalled from their ministries since late March.

This week for the first time, a man who says he was abused by a Joliet priest met with Will County prosecutors to discuss his case.

"I can confirm that we met with the individual," State's Attorney Jeff Tomczak said. Tomczak said he could not elaborate because of a pending investigation.

The man contacted The Herald News and said he attended the now-closed St. Charles Borromeo Seminary near Lockport in the early 1970s. He said that when he was a student there he was sexually abused by the Rev. Carroll Howlin during a camping trip to Wisconsin.

The man, who asked that his identity not be revealed, said the incident shattered his hopes of becoming a priest and that he still struggles with depression.

"We (seminarians) were part of the system. They were abusing their own," the man said.

Imesch on April 16 announced he had placed the 67-year-old Howlin on administrative leave because of a separate allegation, also from a former seminarian. In that allegation, the 44-year-old man's parents told Imesch that Howlin sexually abused their son in 1975 at the seminary and in Kentucky. Howlin ministered in rural, impoverished Kentucky for the past 25 years.

The other survivor, who approached The Herald News, said he heard news reports about Howlin and decided to contact authorities.

"(Howlin) destroyed so much — my faith and my life's ambition," he said. "The more the papers write about (clergy abuse), the others out there won't think they're all alone."

The head of a group for survivors of clergy abuse agrees that increased media coverage is prompting more people to step forward and report incidents that happened long ago.

"People are experiencing their own particular abuse all over again, things they thought they had put in the past," said the Rev. Gary Hayes, acting president of The Link Up.

"Some people are coming forward to tell their story because they never told it before. Some are seeking help because they're experiencing turmoil all over again," Hayes said.

The former seminarian who talked to state's attorney's officials this week said he first reported the abuse to Joliet Diocese officials "six or seven" years ago, and that diocesan officials responded at the time that it was his word against Howlin's.

The Joliet Diocese's two auxiliary bishops, Roger Kaffer and James Fitzgerald, both headed the seminary, which closed in 1981. Kaffer was the founding rector, and Fitzgerald was dean of students and rector. Kaffer and Fitzgerald did not respond to request for comment.

In addition to Howlin, the four other priests associated with the Joliet Diocese who were suspended in the past month because of past claims of sexual abuse are the Revs. Gary Berthiaume, Phillip Dedera, Fred Lenczycki, 57; and Anthony J. Ross, 56.

The St. Ray's Student Council invited Imesch to celebrate the regular Wednesday morning all-school Mass this week. Imesch encouraged youths "to treat everyone the way you would treat Jesus."

"Be good to those you are living with and are in school with," he said.

Ted Slowik can be reached at (815) 729-6053 or via e-mail at


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