Diocese of Belleville to Get a New Bishop, SNAP Responds

The Catholic Diocese of Belleville is getting a new bishop following the retirement of their current prelate. We hope that Belleville’s leader elect will usher in a new era of transparency and openness, but we are skeptical that this will actually happen.

Outgoing Bishop Edward Braxton has resigned from his position after turning 75, the normal retirement age for Catholic bishops. Now, the Diocese of Belleville is set to welcome Michael McGovern, a priest from Chicago, as the new prelate. Fr. McGovern has spent most of his career as a parish priest in Chicago, but also worked for at least four years in the office of the Chancellor, where he worked with international priests.

The primary reason we are concerned about Fr. McGovern’s appointment is a 2003 letter he wrote to then-Cardinal Francis George expressing support for Fr. Robert Kealy (page 141 of link), a priest in Chicago who had been accused of abusing at least one boy in the 1970s. Fr. Kealy was permanently removed from ministry in 2005 after it was determined the allegations were “credible.”

We do not believe that a pastor who defended an abusive priest should be promoted to the position of bishop. But now that Fr. McGovern has been tapped, we hope that he will speak about this mistake publicly, demonstrate to the public that he has learned more about clergy abuse, and promise to never again automatically take the side of an accused cleric over a victim in his new role.

When he becomes bishop, Fr. McGovern can immediately prove his dedication to transparency and prevention by updating Belleville’s list of accused priests, particularly by  including with each entry when the diocese learned about the allegations, and what actions were taken in response. However, we fear that Fr. McGovern will not usher in a new era of openness, but will continue to follow the same old patterns of secrecy.

Contact: Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is www.SNAPnetwork.org


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