Lawsuit against Illinois Catholic dioceses urges bishops to disclose potential sex abusers

Diocese of Rockford Bishop David Malloy
Diocese of Rockford Bishop David Malloy

A group of alleged sexual abuse victims are calling on Rockford and other Illinois Catholic dioceses to publicly disclose the names of potential abusers.

Attorneys spoke at a news conference Thursday about the “conspiracy of silence” they believe surrounds reports of sexual abuse within the state’s Catholic churches.

Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman filed a civil lawsuit Wednesday in Cook County accusing the Chicago, Joliet, Belleville, Peoria, Springfield and Rockford dioceses of failing to disclose or only partially disclose the names of clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse.

Specifically, the Dioceses of Rockford, Belleville and Springfield have not disclosed names of any clergy members who might have been credibly accused, Anderson said.

“Most importantly, Bishop Malloy in the Diocese of Rockford has not disclosed any lists of offenders accused or credibly accused,” Anderson said. “Nothing. Silence. Secrecy. Suppression of truth they know to be.”

The Diocese of Rockford oversees Catholic churches in Jo Daviess, Stephenson, Winnebago, Boone, McHenry, Carroll, DeKalb, Kane, Whiteside, Lee and Ogle counties. Two people are suing the Diocese of Rockford for “conspiring to hide a public hazard.”

The suit names not only the accused priests but also the bishops who allegedly were complicit by choosing to “hide” suspected abusers, Anderson said.

If the lawsuit is successful, each diocese would be required to publicly release the names of anyone accused of child molestation along with their history of abuse, pattern of grooming and sexual behavior and last known address.

Attorneys further requested the dioceses adopt a new policy of dealing with allegations of clergy abuse.

Three people spoke Thursday about how the Illinois dioceses handled their reporting of sexual abuse.

One man, Joshua Bollman, recounted abuse he experienced at the hands of a priest, Peter Kohler, in Lena, which is within the Diocese of Rockford. The alleged sexual abuse happened in 1999, when Bollman was
12 years old, according to the lawsuit.

Kohler has since died.

Penny Wiegert, director of communications for the Diocese of Rockford, said the diocese is aware of the accusation. Wiegert also issued a news release Thursday to address other claims.

“The Diocese of Rockford, along with the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria and Springfield are currently in full cooperation with the State Attorney General Office’s inquiry into each diocese’s handling of childhood sex abuse claims against clergy,” according to the release. “So as to a response to the lawsuit announced and filed this morning by Mr. Jeff Anderson, there will need to be further review of what this lawsuit seeks to accomplish beyond that of the state’s attorney general.”

Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced her plans in August to contact the six Illinois dioceses and review all records tied to sexual assault and abuse.

The announcement came on the heels of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that identified at least seven priests who had connections to Illinois. Madigan will refer any findings to the appropriate state’s attorney’s offices, according to the Attorney General Office’s website.

Allegations in the Diocese of Rockford are rare, but its officials are remaining vigilant, Wiegert said.

“Every priest, employee and volunteer who comes in contact with children in the Rockford diocese or its parishes and schools, must undergo a criminal background check and complete training in our Safe Environment programs in order to prevent, detect and report abuse of any kind by any person,” according to the release.

At least one McHenry County Catholic school employee has been accused of sexual abuse within the past year. Gerardo Gallaga was a maintenance worker at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School in Cary when he was arrested in 2017 on allegations that he sexually abused a young girl.

Gallaga’s case is ongoing, and he is due in court Nov. 9.

Anyone who wishes to report incidents of sexual abuse and assault by the clergy in Illinois can call the attorney general’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-888-414-7678 or email clergyabuse@atg.state.il.us.

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