Diocese of Joliet outlines changes; victims have doubts

Church outlines new polices while victims contend old practices persist

Bishop Ronald Hicks delivers communion to parishioners on Sunday, April 4, 2021, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in Joliet, Ill. The Parish held an in-person socially distant Easter service, where the Bishop delivered his sermon in Spanish.

The Diocese of Joliet is sending a message that things have changed since clergy abuse reached a peak in the 1980s, but victims have their doubts.

A report from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office last week on clergy abuse within the Catholic Church over the past 70 years again shed light on the sin that the church cannot seem to wipe away.

“Some may be thinking, ‘I thought this was over,’” Diocese of Joliet Bishop Ronald Hicks said in a statement after the release of the attorney general’s report.

Hicks gave expression to a sentiment of the Catholic faithful but went on to confirm the seriousness of the situation.

“No sin of such great magnitude as sexual abuse of minors should ever be forgotten,” Hicks said in his statement. “Remembering the harm done forces us to remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure it never happens again. As a diocese, we will continue to dedicate significant resources to protecting children, preventing abuse and promoting healing.”

Diocese of Joliet

Hicks outlined policies and practices that the Diocese has put in place since 1990 in attempts to get control over the crisis of clergy abuse that has stained the church’s image.

The attorney general’s report provided new insight into, as Hicks put it, “the harm done.”

No sin of such great magnitude as sexual abuse of minors should ever be forgotten. Remembering the harm done forces us to remain vigilant in our efforts to ensure it never happens again. As a diocese, we will continue to dedicate significant resources to protecting children, preventing abuse and promoting healing.”

—  Bishop Ronald Hicks, Diocese of Joliet

The Illinois Attorney General’s report identified 69 priests or brothers with credible accusations of sexual abuse in the Joliet diocese, which is eight more than what the diocese lists on its website.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul said at a news conference announcing the report that it includes 160 more names than the six Illinois dioceses have listed on their websites.

The additional names are due largely to the attorney general listing clergy in religious orders not under supervision by the diocese.

Raoul also noted that most Illinois dioceses did not list any names of clergy with credible accusations of abuse until the attorney general investigation started in 2018 under his predecessor, Lisa Madigan.

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The attorney general report lists the names of 451 Catholic priests and brothers involved in the abuse of 1,997 children between 1950 and 2019. Before the investigation started, dioceses in Illinois acknowledged credible accusations against only 103 members of the clergy.

The report includes a statistical analysis showing clergy abuse in the Catholic Church reached a peak in the 1980s in Illinois.

Before the investigation, the Diocese of Joliet and the Archdiocese of Chicago were the only Illinois dioceses that posted the names of clergy credibly accused.

Hicks’ statement noted that the Diocese of Joliet developed its first policy concerning clergy abuse in 1990 and established an independent review committee to review allegations in 1993.

But the effectiveness of church policies and practices has been challenged since then.

David Rudofski of New Lenox said he was 8 years old and making his first confession when he became the victim of clergy abuse at St. Mary’s Parish in Mokena.

It’s the kind of sordid story that makes atonement so challenging for the church.

Rudofski was the plaintiff in a lawsuit, settled in 2013, forcing open court documents that his lawyers said showed a pattern of Joliet bishops aware of credible allegations of clergy abuse dating to 1958.

Rudofski said the attorney general’s report should give confidence for more victims to come forward.

“I think the report will shed even more light on what we know has been cover-up and mishandling and downright lies over the years,” he said.

The attorney general’s report gives a mixed review of the way the Diocese of Joliet has handled clergy abuse over the past seven decades.

“In the context of all Illinois dioceses, the Diocese of Joliet has been ahead of the curve in installing policies and procedures to respond to and prevent clerical child sex abuse,” the report states. “Even so, the diocese has demonstrated slavish adherence to off-the-books, unwritten policies that derail justice for abuse survivors and much-needed institutional transparency.”

Hick’s statement on May 24 indicated that whatever may have been the past practice, the Diocese of Joliet is now committed to transparency and encourages anyone with a complaint to make a report to civil authorities as the diocese investigates the allegation.

Victims remain unconvinced.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) issued a statement last week that expressed incredulity at church policies announced just days ahead of the attorney general’s report.

Those policies were posted by the six Illinois dioceses, including Joliet, just days before the attorney general’s report was released.

SNAP said “church leaders felt the need to remind parents and parishioners about these policies – because, thanks to the work of the investigators at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, it is now apparent to us that those policies are weak, vague and rarely followed.”

Hicks in his statement insisted that things have changed.

“I invite other child-serving organizations and civil authorities to join us in this work and consider adopting the procedures we have developed over the past 30 years so that all children are protected,” Hicks said. “Ultimately, the church and society need to work together to do everything possible to keep our children safe.”