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A Note to Bishop Sartain, New Bishop of Joliet, IL
May 17, 2006
Bishop James Peter Sartain, welcome to the Chicago metropolitan area.
You will arrive from Little Rock next month with the blessing of Pope
Benedict XVI--and with more knowledge than we hold of the troubled Diocese
of Joliet that you inherit.
In introducing you Tuesday as his replacement, Bishop Joseph Imesch reminded
us all of how small a void he'll leave. He has been a tremendous disappointment
to those who long relied on Roman Catholic leaders in Illinois to offer
strong moral voices on such crucial matters as education, health care
and social policy. Owing to the refusal of Imesch and other leaders to
interrupt patterns of crime, those voices don't carry the authority they
Imesch has been a greater disappointment, as you know, to what should
have been his first allegiance: his flock. He is a spectacular study in
how to squander the trust of the faithful.
We've noted previously on this page that Americans curious about the
failure of many bishops to report sexual abuse by clerics owe gratitude
to Imesch. During a deposition he gave last August, he put words to the
code of silence that protected his diocesan subordinates--if not the innocents
they allegedly exploited:
- During the deposition, an attorney quizzed Imesch about a deacon's
report to diocesan officials in 1985 that a Woodridge priest might be
having an improper relationship with a 14-year-old girl. Did Imesch contact
police? "I would not do that," the bishop responded. "There
is no verification. There is no hard evidence that this was happening.
And I'm not going to go say, `Hey, police, go check on my priest.'"
Attorney: "If you had reported this to the police in 1985 to investigate
the suspicion ... this girl wouldn't have been raped?"
Imesch: "I'm not going to go to the police and say I've got a suspicion
that one of my priests is dating a young girl. I'm not going to do that."
Attorney: "She was a 14-year-old girl."
Imesch: "We didn't know that at the time."
Attorney: "You didn't ask."
Imesch: "We didn't know who to ask."
- The attorney asked about a priest accused of abusing boys in Lombard.
Imesch said the priest acknowledged skinny-dipping with the boys and playing
games while they were nude--conduct Imesch called "inappropriate."
Imesch moved the priest to a Lockport parish, where he again was accused.
When the attorney asked Imesch if he considered the 1980 Lombard allegations
against the priest credible, Imesch replied: "Well, I think what
happened happened. It was not considered a crime or a criminal activity
so there was no reason for me not to transfer him."
- In the late 1970s, a Michigan priest confided to Imesch that he had
sexually abused an altar boy there. The admission came after the priest
had been arrested, but before he was convicted of molesting the boy. Why
hadn't Imesch reported the priest's admission to Michigan investigators?
"Well, I don't think that was my responsibility," the bishop
said. "He is charged with a crime. He has to be given a trial. My
going to the police doesn't have anything to do with whether he's guilty
or not." Imesch later invited the priest to work at a retreat house
in his diocese.
Imesch has since apologized for his remarks. He cannot, though, escape
the consequences of his attitudes--either for young people injured by
his mismanagement, or for Catholics and those who admire all the good
their church achieves.
Bishop Sartain, after your installation on June 27, you will find yourself
guiding a diocese of thriving parishes, loyal believers and priests who
have not let the crimes of others diminish the generosity with which they
lead their lives.
We wish you great success as their shepherd.
Just as we wish Bishop Imesch a long and healthy retirement, the better
to mourn the trust in ecclesiastical authority that he might have bequeathed
Instead, he leaves in disgrace.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune