Belleville, an astonishingly high number for a small diocese, SNAP sends Bishop a letter
April 19, 2023
Dear Bishop McGovern:
As you are no doubt aware, this spring marks the 30th anniversary of the early, dramatic and traumatic disclosures that led to the removal, over just a few years, of nearly 10% of the Belleville clergy because of credible reports of child sex abuse. Equally jarring to many were the persistent and effective cover ups of those crimes for decades by your predecessors.
This happened nearly a decade before the 2002 eruption of the Catholic church's abuse and concealment crisis that began in Boston with the Globe's thorough investigation.
In effect, the hierarchy of the Belleville diocese was given an opportunity to reveal and wrestle with the scandal far sooner than many other church institutions across the country.
(And the crisis in your diocese continues, Bishop. In the last four years, at least four Belleville clerics were arrested, suspended, charged with or publicly 'outed' as credibly accused abusers (Fr. Thomas Miller, Fr. Arthur Neimeyer, Fr. Anthony Onyango, Deacon Robert J. Lanter).
So if any US bishop should be ‘ahead of the pack’ and taking the lead on genuine reform in this arena, it should be you. (This is especially true given your background in Chicago, another part of the country which was forced, earlier than most dioceses, to deal with child sex abuse and cover up reports.)
But you're not ahead of the pack. At best, you're in the middle of it. You've done and are doing essentially the bare minimum. For the safety of children, the healing of victims and the benefit of society as a whole, you must do more.
For starters, we ask that you add these five names to your 'credibly accused' list:
--Fr. James T. Beighlie, who pleaded guilty in October 2022 to possession of child pornography (after investigators found about 6,000 child sexual abuse images on one computer, 236 images on another and 40 videos). Fr. Beighlie taught at Vincent Gray Academy in East St. Louis and is now in Dittmer Missouri.
--Sr. Cheryl A. Porte, who was accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old girl and barred from being in contact with kids. In 2002, she was named as a credibly accused abuser for the first and only time locally and was still working as a nun in your diocese. Sr. Porte passed away in 2020.
-- Deacon Lanter, who was charged with the felony criminal sexual assault of a 29-year-old woman, who was unable to give consent at the time, in March 2019. Lanter was the Diocesan Deacon Coordinator at St. Luke Roman Catholic Church in Belleville and a permanent deacon with the St. Luke parish since 1997. He resigned, lives in Swnasea and is now on the Illinois Sex Offender Registry.
--Fr. Dennis J. McClintock and Fr. Fred Lenczycki (more on them below).
Here are the other steps we respectfully urge you to adopt to make sure that Belleville area children are best protected and Belleville area victims are best healed.
--Include on your credibly accused lists those who prey on vulnerable adults, like Deacon Lanter who was charged three years ago with felony criminal sexual assault on a young woman who was unable to give consent at the time of the assault.
He’s now on the state sex offender registry, a fact which you apparently refused to publicly acknowledge and which local media apparently have not reported.
--Include on your credibly accused lists the photos, last known whereabouts and full work histories inside and outside of the diocese - of every single child molesting cleric who spent time in the Belleville area, no matter where there they were ordained, who their primary church supervisor is or was, which religious order they belong to, whether they're alive or dead, whether they had a formal assignment in the Belleville Diocese or not, whether they were in this area for a week or for their entire career, whether they are already on a similar list in another Catholic jurisdiction or not.
In other words, be as inclusive, specific and helpful as possible, rather than doing what you're doing: the bare minimum.
You might argue that Fr. Beighlie or Fr. Lenczycki are already on ‘credibly accused’ lists posted by other church bodies, so there’s no need to put them on your list as well.
But once a cleric has been convicted of abuse, admitted abuse, or deemed 'credibly accused' by one of your brother bishops, what possible harm would it do, Bishop McGovern, to add him to YOUR list too, if he is or was in the Belleville diocese? Why be a legalistic hair-splitter instead of a child protector?
Where these clerics are now is important because nearby parents and prospective employers should be warned about their presence. That is the single best step any bishop could take to prevent more horrific crimes against more innocent kids.
Where they worked and how they looked in the past is important because that information helps victims identify them. It usually takes decades for victims to come forward. They might only recall that everyone called him "Father Mac," not knowing whether he was Fr. Mack Smith or Fr. McGillicuty or Fr. MacArthur. Even parents who are long-time parishioners may have trouble recalling a priest who worked in their church just a few months before mysteriously vanishing with little or no explanation from the diocesan hierarchy.
--Take affirmative steps to lobby legislators to reform Illinois' archaic, arbitrary and predator-friendly child sex abuse laws, especially the civil statute of limitations. This enables more victims to more quickly expose predators and therefore protect more children. It also deters employers and officials from ignoring or concealing child sex crimes. (Roughly 25 states have already done this, resulting in thousands of child molesters being fired, suspended, disciplined and criminally prosecuted.)
--Diversify your review board by letting its top two members select other members. Now, every US bishop hand-picks his own board. That discourages victims from stepping forward. And when power is concentrated into the hands of one church figure, it becomes easier to misuse that power and make reckless, callous, unwise or selfish decisions.
In closing, we quote from a 2002 article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch about abusive Belleville area Catholic clerics:
"Many of the priests continue to live and work in this area. Several have taken new jobs since leaving the active priesthood.
Most of them are living private lives unconnected with the church and with no apparent contact with children.
Many of the priests who lost their positions work in St. Louis, Belleville and in many small towns in Southern Illinois.
One works a day shift in the electronics department of a Belleville department store.
Another is a host at a Belleville restaurant; another reportedly has worked in a florist business.
One works for Veterans Affairs in downtown St. Louis. Others have raised concern within the diocese."
We are sure the same could be said right now: while some proven, admitted or credibly accused Belleville child molesting clerics have moved or passed away, we strongly suspect that more than a few are still living and working locally, most likely among unsuspecting neighbors, co-workers and families.
We shouldn't have to remind you of this Bishop, but every time an abuser remains hidden, kids remain at risk. Disclosing the truth - the full truth - is the best way to safeguard the vulnerable, heal the wounded and help the church move forward.
Finally, why does the task of making sure your ‘credibly accused’ list is accurate fall to us? If you count part-timers and parish staff, you oversee hundreds of employees. Are none of them assigned to keep your list updated? If one or two have been assigned this task, apparently they do not take it seriously.
Fr. Beighlie could have been added in 2021 after police found more than 6,000 child sexual abuse images on one computer or at least in 2022 when he pleaded guilty.
Fr. Lenczycki could and should have been added when he was removed from ministry in 2002 or at least when he was convicted of child sex crimes in 2004.
Fr. McClintock could and should have been added in 2019 when he was put on the St. Louis archdiocese’s ‘publicly accused’ list (or even back in 1991 when he was defrocked).
Deacon Lanter could and should have been added in 2019 when he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman who could not consent or at least when he was found guilty (which apparently you refused to disclose).
Sr. Porte could and should have been added or 44 years ago when she lost her job due to abuse reports or at least in 2002 when she was ‘outed’ in the Belleville News Democrat.
As you may know, in 2019, we prodded your predecessor to add ten clerics’ names to the ‘credibly accused’ list. Sometime in 2020, nine of them were added (Fr. Larry Lorenzoni, Fr. Chester E. Gaiter, Fr. Kenneth J. Roberts, Fr. Thomas Gregory Meyer, Fr. Emil Twardochleb, Fr. Michael Charland, Fr. Orville Munie, Fr. Paul Kabat and Fr. James Vincent Fitzgerald). One was not (Fr. Lenczycki). https://www.snapnetwork.org/belleville_quietly_adds_names_jun20
In 2021, we prodded you to add four more clerics to the ‘credibly accused’ list. Three of them were added (Fr. Gavin O’Connor, Fr. Real “Ray” Borque and Fr. John Wielebski but not Fr. McClintock).
We are glad you have been somewhat responsive to our requests. At the same time, however, we question why the task of putting out an accurate list of Belleville clerics who are ‘credibly accused’ of abusing kids falls to us. If you include parish and part-time staffers, you oversee hundreds of employees. Surely a couple of them can be charged with maintaining and updating this list. If someone has already been given this task, you should discipline or replace them, because it’s clear that right now, no one in your diocese is fully committed to justice, healing, prevention and transparency.
If you genuinely want to help safeguard kids, help heal victims and help rebuild trust in the church hierarchy, we beg you to make your ‘credibly accused’ list as inclusive, detailed, updated promptly and as user-friendly as possible.
David Clohessy of SNAP, 314 566 9790, [email protected]