Crime & Courts

Catholic Diocese of Rockford names 15 priests accused of sexual abuse

At least 3 facing sex abuse allegations tied to McHenry County churches

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford has released the names of 15 priests accused of sexual abuse, including at least three of whom previously were assigned to churches in McHenry County.

Although the diocese previously reported some of the 15 priests named in the report, which was released Wednesday, others were not disclosed until the diocese reviewed the claims while compiling the list, according to a statement from Rockford Bishop David Malloy.

A statement attached to the release did not include details about the specific allegations, dates when church officials learned about the alleged abuse or how the claims were substantiated. A diocese spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Three of the named men – Mark A. Campobello, John C. Holdren and William I. Joffe – each were priests in McHenry County at one point.

In 2000, Campobello was assigned to St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Crystal Lake as a priest, but he served the parish for less than a year. He pleaded guilty in 2004 to abusing two teenage girls he taught at Aurora Central Catholic High School while serving as a priest in Geneva and received a four-year prison sentence. Campobello was removed from the ministry in December 2002, and he was stripped of his religious status in 2005, according to the release.

In 2004, the Catholic Diocese of Rockford announced that it received sexual misconduct allegations against Joffe, who had been a pastor in Woodstock, Cary and Harvard. Joffe was removed from the ministry in August 1993 and died in April 2008.

Most recently, Holdren was accused in 2015 of sexually abusing a 7- to 9-year-old child while assigned to an Aurora church. He retired in 1994 from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg, where he spent 10 years as a priest. He also spent six years in the 1970s at St. Thomas the Apostle in Crystal Lake and St. Peter in Geneva from 1981 to 1983. Holdren was removed from the ministry for a reason not related to a child abuse allegation in July 1994, and died this past April, according to the diocese’s records.

The remaining 12 accused men are Harlan B. Clapsaddle, Thomas Considine, Joseph J.M. Tully, Michael Frazier, James Campbell, Theodore Feely, Walter E. Johnson, Augustine K. Jones, Peter D. Kohler, Richard Kuhl, Joseph M. Lessard and William D. Virtue.

Several of the accused church officials are named in a civil lawsuit that a Chicago firm filed against bishops throughout the Illinois diocese in October. Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman accused the Chicago, Joliet, Belleville, Peoria, Springfield and Rockford dioceses of failing to disclose or only partially disclosing the names of clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse.

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

One man has claimed Kohler raped him during an open confessional at a service in Lena, which is within the Diocese of Rockford. The alleged sexual abuse happened in 1999, when the alleged victim was 12 years old, according to the lawsuit. Kohler has since died.

The lawsuit was announced in the aftermath of a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August, which detailed decades of abuse and cover-ups in six dioceses. The report alleged that more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about
300 priests. 

The Rev. Brian Grady, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Crystal Lake, spoke to his parish about the accusations shortly after the grand jury report became public. Throughout the unplanned sermon, presented at an 11:15 a.m. Mass on
Aug. 19, Grady called for the defrocking of abusive church leaders.

“These men must be removed from their positions of authority,” Grady said. “These men must have the priesthood removed from their personhood. They must be defrocked and laicized.”

Grady went on to say that the perpetrators represent a “small minority” who should be brought to justice, and shouldn’t persuade Catholic people to leave the church.

U.S. bishops had hoped to address the church’s handling of sexual abuse claims during a three-day assembly in Baltimore last week. Their plans were halted Monday, however, with a surprise announcement by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The Vatican, he said, was ordering the bishops to delay votes on two anti-abuse proposals until after a Vatican-convened global meeting on sex abuse in February, according to The Associated Press.

The delay was meant to ensure that steps taken by the U.S. bishops would be in harmony with steps decided at the February meeting, and to provide more time for vetting aspects of the U.S. proposals that might conflict with church law.

Even without the option of a formal vote this week, the U.S. bishops proceeded with discussion of the two key proposals. One would establish a new code of conduct of individual bishops, and the other would create a nine-member special commission, including six lay experts and three members of the clergy, to review complaints against the bishops.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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