JOLIET, Ill. (CNS) — Five lawsuits were filed against the Diocese of Joliet May 15 alleging sexual abuse of minors by four priests and a lay teacher during the 1970s and 1980s.
A Chicago law firm filed the lawsuits in Will County Circuit Court on behalf of victims who said they were between the ages of 8 and 16 at the time.
The abuse is said to have taken place at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Monee, the former St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Joliet, St. Dominic Catholic Church and St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Bolingbrook and St. Mary Nativity School in Joliet.
According to Jim Dwyer, interim communications director for the Joliet Diocese, the diocese had not been served with the lawsuits as of May 17 and planned to respond after reviewing them.
A May 15 statement released by the diocese urged anyone who may have been abused as a child by a priest, diocesan employee or volunteer to notify authorities and the diocese.
“Dealing with the tragic history of child abuse is part of the church’s ministry today,” the statement said, adding that the people of Joliet Diocese “pray every day for those who have been abused and for those responsible for it.”
Dwyer told Catholic News Service that all of the priests accused in the lawsuits were removed from ministry between 1992 and 2012. One of the accused priests and the lay school principal named in the suit has died.
The priests named in the lawsuit are Fathers Myles White, Michael Gibbney, Frederick Lenczycki and James Nowak. Emery Stiglich, a former principal at St. Mary Nativity School in Joliet, is also named.
A statement from the plaintiffs’ attorneys said the men had repressed memories of the abuse until this year following the release of personnel files of priests with substantiated allegations against them in March as part of an unrelated settlement with the diocese.
Also on May 15, a temporary settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., and Bishop Robert W. Finn. The suit was filed by a girl who was 2 years old when Kansas City priest Father Shawn Ratigan took photos of her that were said to be “sexually explicit” in the lawsuit.
Jack Smith, interim director of communications for the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, told CNS that the settlement amount was $600,000 but the structure of the settlement still must be confirmed by the judge. He said insurance will cover the cost of the settlement.
According to The Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Gary Fenner in Kansas City dismissed one of two counts in the suit alleging the bishop and diocese aided and abetted the priest in his possession of child pornography. The priest, who pleaded guilty last year to taking pornographic photos of the girl in 2006, is awaiting sentencing.
The second count in the suit, which the judge allowed to remain, accused the bishop and diocese of receiving, possessing or distributing pornographic images of the girl. The case against Father Ratigan led to a misdemeanor conviction against Bishop Finn for failing to notify police or state child welfare authorities about the photos found on the priest’s computer.