SNAP Letter to Christophe Cardinal Pierre - Papal Nuncio
Oct. 19, 2023
His Eminence Christophe Cardinal Pierre
3339 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear Cardinal Pierre:
"The Diocese of Springfield’s handling of child sex abuse allegations is a story of failed leadership—leadership that allowed clerics to sexually abuse children in the diocese for decades. Through it all, men leading the diocese for 50 years chose to protect the reputation of the church and its clerics, rather than attempt to ensure the physical and mental well-being of its children.”
“As a result, children of the diocese suffered through decades of child sex abuse, the impact of which continues to this day."
So wrote Illinois’ highest ranking law enforcement professional, Attorney General Kwame Raoul, following a nearly five-year investigation into clergy sex crimes and cover ups across the state.
Into this horrific situation stepped Bishop Thomas Paprocki twelve years ago. He knew Springfield had been a troubled diocese. (In fact, one of his predecessors, Bishop Daniel Ryan, was a child molester himself, as Paprocki himself was aware.)
So one would reasonably have expected Paprocki to be especially diligent, sensitive and proactive about abuse.
His experience should have also enabled him to better deal with abuse.
No one can argue that Paprocki is new or inexperienced with abuse. He’s a civil lawyer, has been a bishop for two decades, has headed his own diocese for 13 years and dealt with abuse cases as vice-chancellor and later chancellor of the Chicago Archdiocese, one of the earliest Catholic institutions in the US that was forced, decades ago, to respond to abuse reports and litigation. (According to AG Raoul “Given his extensive involvement with the review board since its inception, Paprocki was quite familiar with the archdiocese’s handling of abuse claims.”)
So even more than most bishops, Paprocki should be better with clergy sex crimes and equipped to deal with them well.
But he isn’t. He's worse.
Don’t take our word for it: Read AG Raoul’s 696 page report. In it, you’ll see that of the seven current prelates in Illinois, none have been criticized more severely than Paprocki.
In fact, since taking the reins of the Springfield Diocese, we believe Paprocki has largely continued his predecessors’ secrecy and callousness. In addition, he has done little to ameliorate the harm that his predecessors inflicted and indeed he inflicts similar harm on his flock now while also acting recklessly which threatens innocent and vulnerable children today.
So today we are filing a formal complaint against Paprocki via ReportBishopAbuse.org, the Catholic church’s official complaint portal.
This process, in part, covers a "bishop. . . who, in the exercise of their office, intentionally interfered with a civil or church investigation into allegations of sexual abuse committed by another cleric or religious."
Much of the evidence below shows a long-standing pattern of conduct by Paprocki (and some of his staff) to do something WORSE than interfering with an invesigation - intimidating, confusing and deterring victims from even filing an abuse report in the first place.
Her are some of our reasons. (Please note, every word in quotations throughout this document comes straight from AG Raoul’s thorough report, which again, resulted from a nearly five-year investigation based largely on documents in the files of Illinois’ bishops. Raoul himself is a Catholic and was raised as one. He recently said “I was raised and confirmed in the Catholic church and sent my children to Catholic schools. I believe the church does important work.”)
--Almost six months ago, after a lengthy review, Raoul provided Illlinois bishops with 50 pages of recommendations detailing how they could better deal with abuse and cover up. As best we can tell, Paprocki has not adopted even one of these many recommendations.
--While US bishops began disclosing and posting predator priests’ names on their websites in 2002, Paprocki did not do so until 16 years later (only after Illinois attorney general began investigating clergy abuse and cover ups across the state), despite a purportedly binding national abuse policy that supposedly mandates “openness and transparency” in abuse and cover up cases. (It was adopted in Dallas in 2002.)
--Even then, Raoul found, his diocese "was the last Illinois diocese to post a predator priest list."
--Even then, Paprocki didn’t post his list in the most logical and accessible place, where other bishops had done so, and where people would expect: on the diocesan website. Instead, he created a separate, new website, which of course makes it less likely that police, prosecutors, parents, parishioners and the public will find it.
(According to AG Raoul’s investigation, “A person interested in finding such information was required to web-sleuth, and stumble upon https://promise.dio.org, where they would be ironically told that the information presented was “a channel for dialog and transparency.” Attorney General investigators immediately pointed out to diocese leaders the failings of such a hide and seek exercise in “transparency,” but it was not until September 2022 that Bishop Paprocki finally authorized the diocese’s homepage to include a link to a “List of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.)
--Even now, Paprocki's diocese provides no work assignments of predator priests. He’s the only Illinois bishop to refuse to do this.
--Paprocki rationalized this “crucial” omission by claiming that he wants “to avoid traumatizing parish communities that had no clue a priest assigned to their parish may have harmed children” and “not (wanting) to retraumatize communities where it was known that the priest was an abuser.” (The bishop’s sole focus is on his current parishioners, not on deeply wounded and still-suffering adults who were sexually victimized at those parishes and others, nor on still-vulnerable youngsters who are or were at those parishes.)
--Paprocki essentially rebuffed the efforts of two survivors to meet with him. According to AG Raoul “Before the Attorney General’s investigation, one survivor contacted the abusing cleric directly, while another survivor contacted the bishop of Springfield, each in search of healing. Neither effort brought the healing they sought. The survivors then separately contacted Attorney General investigators who, with the survivors’ permission diocesan, informed the diocese of their reports to the Attorney General. The diocese then took renewed interest in the survivors and contacted them with an offer to meet with the diocesan review board and the bishop of the Springfield diocese.”
--For 12 years, Paprocki has ignored the pleas of a Catholic mother whose son was fathered by a priest who worked in the Springfield Diocese. (Her plight was profiled on page one of the New York Times which reported that the cleric, Fr. Henry Willenborg, is also accused of molesting a girl in the diocese. (The mother sought an apology and a visit from Fr. Willenborg because both she and her son had cancer. The son has since passed away, never having had the chance to meet his father, who refused to visit him.)
--Even now, despite Fr. Willenborg being suspended from active ministry and his presence on the ‘credibly accused’ lists of abusive priests in a Missouri diocese, Paproki refuses to do likewise on his website.
--‘Credibly accused’ child molesting clerics are still being protected by Paprocki. He refuses to name many of them who are or were in Springfield area, including some who have been deemed 'credibly accused' of abuse by heads of dioceses and religious order heads elsewhere.
Over the last five years, SNAP has repeatedly and publicly prodded Paprocki to add other names to his ‘credibly accused’ list:
In 2018, SNAP ‘outed’ Fr. Kevin J. Downey, Fr. Richard Niebrugge, Fr. Louis Schlangen, Fr. Stanislaus Yunker, Fr. Thomas G. Meyer and Fr. Henry Willenborg.
In 2019, SNAP ‘outed’ Fr. Noel Shaughnessy, Fr. Thomas Gardner, Fr. Thomas S. McShane, Fr. Scott Kallal, Fr. Francis A. Benham.
In 2021, SNAP ‘outed’ Fr. David Ryan, Fr. Kenneth John Gansmann, Br. Jerome Kucan (also spelled Kucon), Fr. John “Jack” Campbell and Fr Joseph C. Gill.
In May of 2023, SNAP ‘outed’ Fr. John J. “Jack” Campbell, Fr. Victor Lucien Chateauvert, Fr. Orville Lawrence Munie and Fr. Francis X. Nawn.
Again, Catholic officials elsewhere have posted most of these names, after having deemed them 'credibly accused' of chid sexual abuse, through church processes.
Eventually, Paprocki quietly added a few - but not all or even most - of these names.
A number of them are still alive and presumably are still potential threats to children.
Outright falsehoods by Paprocki’s staff (which have apparently gone unpunished)
--Paprocki’s staff told AG investigators that 1986 was the first year it received a report that Fr. Joseph Cernich sexually abused children. But diocesan records reveal that shortly after being named Springfield’s bishop in 1984, then-Bishop Daniel Ryan was reportedly warned about Cernich,
--Paprocki's staff told AG investigators that not until 1985 did it receive reports that Fr. William Weerts may have been sexually abusing children. "The diocese’s own files prove otherwise," wrote AG Raoul In fact, Fr. Weert’s "inappropriate conduct with children came to the diocese's attention more than 20 years earlier.”
--After first agreeing to pay for a survivor's counseling, Paprocki’s staff "backtracked and refused, without explanation, to pay any bills after an initial quarterly invoice—even after receiving a letter from Phil’s therapist attesting to the impact of the abuse and the importance of therapy for Phil’s recovery. The ordeal has left Phil with significant medical debt he is unable to afford. This has compounded the trauma and anxiety Phil has experienced," wrote AG Raoul.
(Even if these were good faith mistakes, Paprocki should have publicly apologized and/or disciplined those who gave false information to law enforcement officials.)
Callous, hurtful actions towards survivors by Paprocki’s staff (also apparently unpunished)
--When Fr. Louis C. Shea's name was added to the diocesan 'credibly accused' abusers list, "rather than acknowledge the abuse with a humble apology and request for forgiveness, the victims assistance coordinator told a survivor 'The Holy Spirit intervened and wisdom prevailed.'”
Callous, hurtful actions towards survivors by Paprocki himself
--When discussing who was responsible for the church’s continuing sexual abuse crisis, Paprocki said that the devil was the principal force behind the lawsuits.
--The Illinois Times reports that Paprocki has shielded at least three priests from sexual assault investigations.”
--AG Raoul’s investigation found that “Up to the AG’s initiation of this investigation (in 2018), for the Springfield diocese, documenting (abuse) allegations (were) minimal.” (Remember, Paprocki’s a civil lawyer and has been in charge of the diocese for 12 years.)
--In 2015, in a “heart-wrenching” letter a wounded survivor "described in excruciating detail the abuse he endured at the hands of a serial Springfield predator priest, Fr. Joseph Cullen O’Brien (who has had "at least a dozen" known victims). "But Bishop Paprocki never responded,” wrote AG Raoul.
--Paprocki is not only secretive about predator priests. He’s also secretive about his own hand-picked panel that supposedly deals with abuse reports, the Lay Review Board. He refuses to disclose who is on this board. That means that if a survivor meets with the panel, they won’t know, walking in the door, whether their boss, brother-in-law or next-door neighbor will be sitting there. This of course very likely deters others who consider reporting a predator priest from doing so.
--Paprocki claimed that the inaction of (his predecessors) Bishops O’Connor, McNicholas, and Ryan (inaction that left scores of children incalculably wounded from child sex abuse) was done with “virtuous intent,” which of course he couldn’t possibly truly know and which of course was very hurtful to survivors.
Finally, consider AG Raoul’s description of the ordeal suffered by two survivors, Abby and Annie, at his hands and the hands of his staff.
Paprocki’s staff promised them they could meet with his abuse review board. First, however, they had to meet separately with the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator. Then they were “told that the diocesan legal counsel would be present during this meeting." They asked if an AG investigator they had worked with "could (be present) for emotional support. The diocese denied their request."
“The initial meetings were (like) inquisitions,” with Paprocki’s lawyer “interrogating (the victims). . .(seeming like) the actual purpose of the meetings was for (him) to obtain information in the event litigation ensued.
“Worse yet,” a church staffer’s subsequent report written “both omitted critical facts about (the abuse).” It also “included misstatements” about the meeting and the abuse (the victims) suffered.”
Before another meeting (the victims) “asked if they could have a friend accompany them to offer emotional support. The requests were denied” supposedly “in keeping with past practice of the diocese.” (So if Paprocki’s employees were telling the truth, other victims had similarly been denied this simple, compassionate and common sense option to bring along a support person when sitting down with church staff.)
Paprocki’s review board “conceded that they had seen no evidence that the diocese had undertaken any investigation regarding (Fr. Louis C. Shea’s) child sex abuse.” The (victims) “both found the majority of the review board’s members detached,” and, in the words of one, “cold, indifferent or dismissive” and showing “a lack of empathy.”
"Throughout the process, the diocese and Bishop Paprocki prioritized their own interests over supporting the survivors, and showed a failure to truly listen. . .”
“The one positive from the experience is that after Abby and Annie met with the review board, it recommended to the bishop that Fr. Shea’s child sex abuse of both Abby and Annie be substantiated. With that, Shea’s name was added to the diocese’s list of child sex abusers. This news was communicated to Abby and Annie by the victims assistance coordinator, but rather than acknowledge the abuse with a humble apology and request for forgiveness, the victims assistance coordinator closed with this—“The Holy Spirit intervened and wisdom prevailed.”
In conclusion, regarding AG Raoul’s lengthy report (with nearly 50 pages of recommendations to bishops about how to better deal with abuse), Paprocki said the church is “willing to consider any additional actions that would be helpful in making our safe environment program more effective” and that he would “welcome further discussions and suggestions from the Illinois Attorney General’s office regarding any concrete steps to strengthen [safe environment] measures.” But we see no evidence of Paprocki taking – or even promising to take – even one of these recommendations.
Volunteer director, Missouri SNAP
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
7234 Arsenal St., St. Louis MO 63143
314 566 9790, [email protected]
Mike McDonnell, Interim Director of SNAP
267 261 0578, [email protected]