CHICAGO — A suburban Chicago Catholic diocese reached a settlement of $1.4 million in a lawsuit filed by three men who alleged they were molested by their priest as children, the two sides announced Thursday.
The three unidentified men were allegedly repeatedly abused by Father Leonard Mateo of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet between 1980 and 1982, before they reached age 11. They came forward with their allegations against Mateo in 2014.
“This is a priest who was continuously moved from one parish to the next upon allegations of sexual misconduct, normalizing his sexual abuse of children and dispelling any notion it was wrong,” said plaintiff’s attorney Antonio M. Romanucci.
The settlement reached in Will County Circuit Court will be distributed among the plaintiffs, who request anonymity.
According to attorneys for the three victims, Bishop Joseph Imesch said in a deposition priests with credible sexual abuse allegations were allowed to continue ministry within the Diocese of Joliet without any warning to parishioners.
Diocese spokesman Edward Flavin said Mateo left the diocese in 1984 and died in 2004. Imesch died in 2015.
Imesch became the third bishop of the Joliet Diocese in 1979 and remained in the post until his retirement in 2006. His tenure became tarnished after he was accused of failing to report numerous allegations of abuse by priests to authorities. During his last years as bishop, Imesch and diocese attorneys fought to keep sex abuse files under wraps.
Andrew Touhy, a spokesman for the law firm representing the plaintiffs, said reaching a settlement with the diocese was difficult, noting attorneys for the diocese claimed the lawsuit was invalid because of the statute of limitations. In July, Judge Matthew Bertani rejected a diocese motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
According to the Joliet Diocese, 35 diocesan priests have had substantiated or credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors made against them since 1986. Most have been removed from ministry and others have died.
The diocese was recently forced to remove two retired priests accused of sexual misconduct out of a suburban Chicago retirement facility that is adjacent to a junior high school.
The Revs. James Nowak, 81, and Richard Jacklin, 67, resided at the St. John Vianney Villa outside Chicago until neighbors, school officials and parents raised concerns about the retirement home’s proximity to Kennedy Junior High School in Lisle.
Jacklin was arrested Oct. 31, 2017, by Illinois State Police on allegations he assaulted a resident at Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee. He has been charged with criminal sexual assault by force and sexual misconduct on a person with a disability. His next court date is Oct. 4.
Nowak was ordained in May 1976 and removed from ministry in 2012.
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