“Bishop Thomas Paprocki: Catholic church has learned from past mistakes” & related article

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The State Journal-Register

Posted Jan. 30, 2014 @ 1:02 am

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki

Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki

It is horrible to read about the tragic experience of Joe Iacono of Springfield, who was a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest when Iacono was a child living in the Chicago area more than 40 years ago.

However, in his Jan. 24 article, “Face of abuse victims shows great courage,” David Bakke does not accurately or fully represent my views. I do not claim, as he asserts, that “the church has handled the sexual abuse scandal as responsibly as any organization in the world.”

In my interview with the Washington Times last fall, I was speaking in the present tense when I said “that of any institution in the country — perhaps in the world — I don’t think anyone is dealing with it as responsibly as the Catholic Church.” But I also acknowledged that “we have had our unfortunate share of scandals and sin and the church is dealing with that.”

I do not deny that the church has made some terrible mistakes in handling sexual abuse cases. In addition to apologizing and providing assistance to victims, the church has learned from these past mistakes and has implemented far-reaching reforms.

It is in that context that I said in the interview with the Washington Times, “I don’t know any other organization that goes through as much in terms of what we require, not only of our personnel but even our volunteers, in terms of what we call safe environment programs and an understanding of how to work with children.”

The other main point I was making was that it is a big mistake for people to think that child sexual abuse is exclusively or even primarily a Catholic problem. I said, “If people are really serious about sexual abuse, I think they need to be looking at some other places as well.”

In this regard, an extensive 2007 investigation by The Associated Press showed that sexual abuse of children in U.S. public schools was “widespread,” and most of it was never reported or punished.

In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, educational programs on the methods of recognizing and preventing sexual abuse of minors are offered to church personnel and volunteers on a regular basis. All church personnel must complete an appropriate criminal history background search and a certification document before beginning or continuing service, including volunteer service, in our parishes, schools, agencies and institutions.

Such church personnel are asked periodically to repeat the completion of the certification document and to update the criminal history background search.

The Diocese of Springfield in Illinois complies with all applicable civil laws with respect to the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse of minors to civil authorities and cooperates in their investigation. In every instance, the diocese advises and supports a person’s right to make a report to public authorities.

Our nine-person Diocesan Review Board, which is composed of eight non-clerics who are not employed by the diocese and a priest who is an experienced and respected pastor of the diocese, advises me as diocesan bishop in my assessment of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and in my determination of suitability for ministry.

Such cases involving priests are also reviewed by Vatican authorities. Our victim assistance coordinator facilitates contact with the alleged victim and the alleged victim’s family by offering appropriate medical, psychological and spiritual assistance, with no comment as to the truth of any allegation.

Child sexual abuse is a sin and a crime that we take very seriously here in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. It also needs to be vigorously and effectively addressed wherever it occurs.

The Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki is bishop of Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.


Dave Bakke: The courage of abuse victim Joe Iacono

The State Journal-Register

23 January 2014  10 pm

By Dave Bakke

Staff Writer

Joe Iacono of Springfield was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest when Iacono was a child living in the Chicago area. The Chicago archdiocese released records this week that showed decades of covering up for priests like the one who abused Iacono. Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register

Joe Iacono of Springfield was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest when Iacono was a child living in the Chicago area. The Chicago archdiocese released records this week that showed decades of covering up for priests like the one who abused Iacono. Rich Saal/The State Journal-Register |

Both of Chicago’s major daily newspapers and some of its TV stations led their coverage of Tuesday’s press conference on sexual abuse of minors in the archdiocese with Joe Iacono.

Joe, who lives in Springfield, was front and center for one grueling, emotional day as the Chicago archdiocese released records that showed decades spent mishandling and covering up for priests who had abused kids, including Joe. Joe was sexually victimized by the late Rev. Thomas Kelly when Joe was a teen in Northlake, attending St. John Vianney, the family parish.

Joe said it was gut-wrenching to put himself out there on Tuesday, basically becoming the face of the victims. He is just a regular guy; known before now only for his job as a financial adviser and his years with Springfield’s Roman Cultural Society, the presidency of which he will relinquish in a few weeks.

Before returning to what I am sure will be welcome anonymity, Joe agreed to tell me how he came to be facing the media at the podium on Tuesday.

His trip to the press conference on the 23rd floor of Chicago’s Allerton Hotel began when Marc Pearlman, Chicago associate of Joe’s attorney, Jeff Anderson, called. Pearlman explained that when the archdiocese released its records on abuse, there would be a press conference. Marc and Jeff wanted Joe to be one of six or seven victims who would tell their stories and answer questions.

Though he knew it would be difficult, Joe immediately agreed. Why? Why put himself through that and dredge up the horror of 40-plus years ago?

“Because this is much bigger than just me,” he told me. “I’m just a pipeline for information to the public. And because if I speak about it, it could help someone else, too. Fifteen years ago, I couldn’t have done it.”

He had been given a week’s notice; a week to worry and to prepare himself mentally for facing a horde of media to talk about something so intensely personal that he refused to acknowledge it to himself until he was well into his adulthood.

“I got very anxious the day before the press conference,” he says. “And when that happens, my wife (Catherine) knows just to leave me alone. Doing the press conference made me relive it (the abuse). And there’s still some feeling of shame.”

His therapist has told Joe that feeling shame is normal. But he must also tell himself he did nothing to be ashamed of. That is easy to say, easy to know it’s the right thing, but it’s hard to make the mind accept it.

Joe said that with the television lights, it must have been near 100 degrees at the press conference. I found out from talking with him that, as arduous it was standing before a crowd of photographers and reporters on Tuesday, the more difficult ordeal may have been telling his devoutly Catholic mother about what Kelly did to her son.

She was of that generation that came before all of this, when people were blindly loyal to the church. It was God to them. No real difference. But Joe knew that what happened to him was going to come out and she had to hear it from him first. He had met with officials of the Chicago archdiocese, including Cardinal Francis George, to tell them his story. He asked the cardinal to write a letter that would explain things to Mrs. Iacono because Joe knew that would carry great weight with her.

Most of all, he was afraid that once his mother knew, she would blame herself for not better protecting her son. We parents are like that. We blame ourselves first for most things that go wrong with our kids.

“I didn’t want her to do that,” Joe says. His mother was in assisted living by the time he told her. She was in the early stages of dementia, which might have been a blessing. But Joe says she was still lucid enough to understand what her son was saying. I just can’t imagine how hard that must have been — for them both.

My hat is off to Joe. He has had the mettle to do what he had to do.

After moving to Springfield in 1984, Joe still attended Mass, first at Blessed Sacrament and then, for a short time, Christ the King. But he was beginning to acknowledge to himself what had happened with Kelly and the role it played in what was a messed-up life. He couldn’t stay in a church that had hurt him so badly. He has been gone a long time.

Those of us who have not yet left the Catholic church, at least not physically, have our different reasons for staying. Because we stay, we have been battered for such a long time now. Some have gone from defense to disbelief, revulsion, anger and frustration. We have been through the scandals in Boston, L.A., Chicago and have had our share of pain to endure in the Springfield diocese.

But as long as there are Catholic church leaders like our Bishop Thomas Paprocki who, after all this, could tell The Washington Times last fall that the church has handled the sexual abuse scandal as responsibly as any organization in the world could, well, the uncovering of more and still more will not stop.

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