Suit accuses Illinois dioceses of conspiracy; seeks all priest abuse records

SHARE Suit accuses Illinois dioceses of conspiracy; seeks all priest abuse records

Attorney Jeff Anderson (center) announced a lawsuit against every Catholic diocese in Illinois on Thursday. Plaintiff Darin Buckman is at far left. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Four survivors of sexual abuse by priests filed a public nuisance and conspiracy lawsuit against every diocese in the state Thursday, asking a judge to order the release of all records related to every abusive priest in Illinois.

Jeff Anderson, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, said the goal was to expose “a conspiracy of silence, a conspiracy of secrecy, a conspiracy of self-protection and scandal-avoidance that is causing a hazard and a danger in real time today.”

Anderson said the dioceses have long maintained records of abusive priests who no longer are involved in ministry, as well as records of top church officials “complicit” in covering up abuses.

Three plaintiffs chose to identify themselves; the fourth opted to remain anonymous. None of the alleged attacks occurred within the Archdiocese of Chicago, though Cardinal Blase Cupich heads the Illinois Catholic Conference, which is a defendant in the lawsuit.

Plaintiff Darin Buckman said he was sexually assaulted by a priest in the Peoria Diocese between the late ’70s and early ’80s; he was 8 to 14 years old at the time.

“He took away my manhood and my childhood,” Buckman said Thursday, fighting back tears. “I knew I had to come to this so no other one child would be sexually abused again, especially in the Catholic diocese.”

Buckman said he contacted Anderson and his co-counsel in the case, Marc Pearlman, more than two years ago. Anderson and Pearlman then requested records from the Peoria Diocese but were ignored.

“You’ve gotta remember, once something like this [happens], what comes [next] is blame. [It’s] my fault,” Buckman said. “Depression, anxiety, alcoholism. It’s part of the avenue of coping with what happened.”

The Diocese of Peoria disputed Buckman’s and Anderson’s version of events.

“The Diocese of Peoria has been accused of ignoring Darin Buckman’s complaints when he came forward to allege that he was abused by Fr. [John] Anderson nearly 34 years ago. The Diocese has had conversations with both Buckman and the attorneys representing him, even yesterday,” the diocese said in a statement. “Under the direction of Bishop Jenky, the Catholic Diocese of Peoria remains committed to maintaining a safe environment to all children.”

The anonymous plaintiff also alleges he was sexually abused by Monsignor Charles Beebe in 1981 and that the accusation was ignored by Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria.

The diocese said it investigated the claims against Beebe earlier this year and the Diocesan Review Commission “unanimously determined that the allegation was unsubstantiated and could not be deemed credible.”

The 11-count lawsuit alleges negligence, public nuisance, conspiracy, and fraudulent misrepresentation or non-disclosure of facts. Three of the four plaintiffs also seek damages.

The overall goal of the suit, Jeff Anderson said, is to bring about the release of all information relevant to the abuse of children by priests in Illinois.

“To abate the continuing nuisance, Plaintiffs further request an order requiring that each Defendant publicly release the names of all agents, including priests, accused of child molestation, each agent’s history of abuse, each agent’s pattern of grooming and sexual behavior, and his or her last known address,” the suit states.

In a statement issued shortly after Thursday’s press conference, the Archdiocese of Chicago said it had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but pointed to a list of credibly accused priests that the Archdiocese published in 2006.

And, despite saying the Archdiocese had not had time to review the lawsuit, the statement continued, adding:

“In January 2014, and again in November 2014, the Archdiocese of Chicago released documents from the files of the priests with substantiated allegations of abuse against them listed on its website. Only the names of victims, material that would identify them or material protected by law was redacted in the more than 20,000 pages released. This information contains the details about the abuse the lawsuit seeks.”

The Joliet Diocese also released a statement in response to the lawsuit, noting that the diocese maintains a public database of priests — living and dead — who’ve been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

“All credibly accused priests have been removed from ministry and the dates of such removal are also listed on the website,” the statement said.

The Diocese of Springfield also issued a statement on the allegations leveled by Jeff Anderson.

“The specific case discussed in today’s announcement involving the Diocese of Springfield was thoroughly investigated and reported to civil authorities. The diocese shared the details of the complaint with then Sangamon County State’s Attorney John Schmidt. More broadly, beyond the specific case referred to in this lawsuit, the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois has already been working cooperatively with the Illinois Attorney General’s office to respond to requests for information relating to past and present practices of handling allegations of sexual abuse of minors by church personnel,” the Springfield Diocese said.

The dioceses of Rockford and Belleville did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

In August, outgoing Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced her office was launching a clergy sex abuse hotline.

Madigan also met with church officials to discuss the seven Illinois priests named in a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sex abuse.

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