Tuesday, December 15, 2015
University offends abuse survivors by honoring Joliet bishop
By Ted Slowik
I went to see the movie "Spotlight" about the Boston Globe's groundbreaking coverage of priests who sexually abused children and the bishops and cardinals who covered it up. Had Catholic Church leaders acted differently, predator clergy wouldn't have had access to children. Many people who were harmed would have been spared.
As a reporter for the Joliet Herald News in 2002, I spoke with more than 50 people who were sexually abused as children by Joliet priests. The Joliet Diocese lists on its website 35 priests linked to sexual abuse of children. Hundreds of children were horrifically abused in DuPage, Will and five other counties.
The guy in charge of the Joliet Diocese from 1979 to 2006, when a great number of cases were reported, was Bishop Joseph Imesch. Based on my first-hand interviews with abuse survivors, their parents and diocesan insiders, I firmly believe Joe Imesch cared more about protecting his priests and the reputation of the Church than protecting children from harm.
He'd say, in interviews and in depositions, that he relied on the advice of therapists who assured him the sexual deviants could be treated and returned to service. At other times Joe would say there was a lack of evidence that a crime occurred, or some other lame excuse. I call bullshit on all that.
Joe knew a large number of his priests were doing very bad things with kids. And rather than react with shock and anger that his men were capable of such deeds, he attacked those who came forward to report the crimes. He berated survivors of abuse and their family members. He attempted to discredit them and media who reported on the cases. He used every legal tool at his disposal to make the abuse seem somehow less serious and widespread than it was.
Like "Spotlight" shows, there were a lot of good Catholics in the community who went along with the broken system in a misguided belief that it was for the good of the Church. They were told by guys like Joe Imesch that there were a few bad apples, and they were assured there was no way they'd be able to harm another child.
Then Joe went and placed his bad priests in different parishes where they abused again. And when he ran out of parishes in his seven-county diocese he shipped his bad priests off to other dioceses around the country, to Kentucky, or California. He'd take in bad priests, too, from Michigan and elsewhere. It was a sick system, and Joe was one of the best at it.
Let me make this clear: there is an abundance of indisputable evidence that the actions of Joe Imesch resulted in children being sexually abused by priests that Imesch knew had molested other children. And he's never owned up to that. In no way should Joe Imesch be honored as a good bishop or even a good person.
Which is why it's baffling that Joliet's University of St. Francis honors an educator every year with the Bishop Joseph L. Imesch Award for "Excellence in Teaching." Of all things, to attach Joe's name to an honor bestowed upon someone who works with children defies decency.
I hope University of St. Francis leaders realize that continuing to honor Joe Imesch in this manner offends and insults survivors of childhood sexual abuse.