Opinions &



Op-Ed Titles


The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Opinions & Editorials
Select essays from around the nation



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 once did.

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 to you.

Instead, he leaves in disgrace.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune