Sexual abuse in the Catholic church is arguably one of the greatest scandals in recent memory. With thousands of perpetrators, even more victims, and an international scope, it has shaken the world and upset the hierarchy of a centuries-old religious institution. From 2017 to 2018 alone, 1,385 adults came forward with abuse allegations.
Response from the Church was slow, and often consisted of denial or outright coverups when allegations weren’t just ignored. Recent investigations have revealed that such actions date back decades, showing a systemic and flagrant attempt to minimize, hide, or discredit accusers in the name of preserving the Church’s public image. Many small towns and cities are not immune from the damage; priests and other officials in the Diocese of Rockford have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.
Where the Church has failed them, victims have turned to civil lawsuits in the hope of finding justice.
Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to holding priests and officials with the Rockford Diocese fully accountable when their action have caused harm to an innocent person. Contact our office today to set a consultation with a Rockford Diocese sex abuse lawyer for a free and confidential consultation.
Abuse in the Diocese of Rockford
Of the 400 Illinois priests named in a comprehensive 2019 report on Church sexual abuse, 15 are from the Diocese of Rockford. Cases in the Diocese of Rockford go as far back as the 60s and as recent as 2014; there are both male and female victims. It is important to note that the majority of sexual assaults go unreported, so this number may be higher and may continue to grow.
In this list you can see clear evidence of the Church’s practice of moving abusers to different dioceses; Edwin Banach (who passed away in 1984) was shuffled between multiple churches, returning twice to the church where he allegedly abused young boys. The data also shows why proper justice can be so elusive for victims, as many other named officials passed away before the report was published.
Some of this data came from the Diocese itself, which released a list of names of accused officials in 2018. However, the 2019 report contained more names, which the Diocese withheld on the grounds that the allegations were “not credible.” The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has called for an outside investigation of the Rockford Diocese.
|Name:||Date of Ordination:||Action Taken:||Current Status:|
|Banach, Edwin||1941||Alleged abuse of 2 boys between 1963 - 1970 at St. Anthony of Padua; Transferred to California||Deceased 1984|
|Campobello, Mark A||1991||Arrested in 10/2002 when 18 year old girl alleged abuse when he was assistant principal at her school; placed on leave; indicted again 10/2003 for molestation of another girl in 1999 - 2000; pled guilty 2004; sentenced to 8 years; settled 5/2007 for $2.2 million; Laicized 6/2005; Released from prison 2/13/2008; Back in prison 4/2008; Releases soon after and back in 4/2009, released 7/28/2010; Last known to be living in Crystal Lake, IL||Convicted|
|Clapsaddle, Harlan B||1977||Accused of inappropriately touching three brothers decades prior; Removed from parish in 1/1997 sent for treatment;||Settled|
|Considine, Thomas||1966||Accused by the diocese on its list 11/14/2018; Removed from ministry 4/1980||Deceased 3/1988|
|Feely, Theodore||1958||Alleged abuse by 2 men when minors in IL in 1968 - 1972; Accused of sexual abuse and rape of a then 13 year old boy in 1969||Deceased 1991|
|Frazier, Michael||Permanent deacon 1982; Returned 2011; Removed from ministry||Accused|
|Gaynor, James||1960||Accused of repeated abuse from 1963 - 1965 when the man was 4 & 5 years old;||Deceased of AIDS in 1991|
|Harte, Al F||1964||1/31/2014 a woman filed suit that he and 2 other priests abused her on multiple occasions over a 3 year period 1978-1980 while a student at Holy Family Catholic School||Deceased 8/24/2002|
|Holdren, John C||1971||Accused in 2015 of sexually abusing a 7 - 9 year old boy in early 1970s at St. Rita's of Cascia in Aurora; Several family members also abused; Long term leave of absence 1994 after injured in home invasion; 7/1994 removed from ministry||Sued|
|Joffe, William I||1957||Placed on leave 12/1987 after allegations of mismanaging parish funds; pled guilty 1981 for embezzling $264,000 from parish; sentenced to 1 year in prison and 5 years probation; abuse complaint in 1993, 2002, 2004 and three more by 2005 ; Removed from priesthood in 8/1993||Deceased 4/2008|
|Johnson, Walter E||1953||11/14/2018 named publicly accused on Rockford Diocese list; Removed by order 4/1988||Deceased 4/14/2018|
|Kohler, Peter D||1968||Priest of the Missionaries of Our Lady of LaSallette (M.S.); Diocese of Rockford's list 11/14/2018||Deceased 1991|
|Kuhl, Richard||1996 five women filed four suits alleging abuse by Kuhl when they were children; all dismissed 1/2000 by IL Supreme Court on SOL; 11/03 a woman filed suit claiming abuse 1974 - 1982; suit mentions at least 6 victims||Accused|
|Pedraza-Arias, Alfredo||Arrested 2/11/2016 charged with criminal sexual abuse of two girls between 1/2009 and 11/2014 (girls under the age of 6); under investigation since 10/2014; Suspended from ministry 10/30/2014; released from jail 2/10/2018; deportation to Columbia 2/26/2018|
|Tully, Joseph J. M.||1925||On Rockford diocese list 11/14/2018; Retired in 1971||Deceased 12/18/1982|
A Long History of Abuse
Allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church date back as far as the 15th century, but were rarely acknowledged until the 1940s. American priest George Fitzgerald, who often worked with priests on personal problems, wrote that “offenders were unlikely to change and should not be returned to ministry.” Though he spoke with a Pope and several bishops about his work, the Vatican did not require reports of abuse to travel through the hierarchy until 2001. Until then, incidents were handled on the local level.
It took decades after Fitzgerald initially raised concerns for allegations to gain more traction. A combination of high profile cases, protests, and media coverage (including Irish documentary Suffer the Children) led to significant public attention around the issue. Organizations like Broken Rites, founded in 1992, empowered victims and encouraged them to speak out and seek justice.
In 2004, a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice estimated that over 4,000 Church officials were credibly accused of sexual abuse since the 1950s in the United States alone.
Coverups, Victim-Blaming, and Failure to Act
With the temporal and physical scale of systemic sexual abuse in the Church established, a question remains: why now? Why not decades or even centuries ago?
For one, society’s attitudes towards sexual abuse have changed significantly. Civil Rights movements have encouraged marginalized people to speak truth to power. Shifting cultural attitudes about women, homosexuality, hierarchy, and other long-held ideals have opened a previously taboo discussion about sexual abuse.
But society is only partially to blame; indeed, the church itself has repeatedly mishandled such cases. For many years, standard practice was to handle sexual abuse allegations internally rather than report to police. This obviously creates a conflict of interest as the church struggles to maintain a positive public image while also holding its officials accountable.
Some offenders were laicized (removed from clergy) in the past, but this was rare, not only due to church policy but because many of the accused were elderly or even deceased by the time allegations surfaced. A more frequent approach to misconduct was to simply move offenders to a different diocese, usually without notifying the destination diocese of the reason.
Lasting Trauma of Abuse Perpetrated by the Rockford Diocese
Sexual abuse is often more about power than sex. Abusers are almost always in positions of power over their victims: producers and actors/actresses, bosses and employees, priests and congregation. Given that many victims of sexual abuse in the Church were children, this power dynamic is tilted further by the inherent authority of an adult. Such a choice of victim is deliberate; children are more likely to trust authority and less likely to report abuse, let alone understand it.
Later in life, the gravity of such trauma can take hold in many ways. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse often experience depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and difficult or unhealthy personal relationships. Being abused at such a young age can damage body image, leading to eating disorders or other forms of self-harm. Their religious beliefs may be tested, meaning that a bedrock of faith that once carried them withers away. Victims often feel angry, confused, and lost.
While some survivors do seek therapy – and while therapy is often effective – many never get the help they need. Despite evolving social attitudes, reckoning with such trauma is difficult and many victims never seek help.
Abusers may be laicized, and they pass away eventually. But the scars they leave remain forever.
Finding Justice After Rockford Sexual Abuse
With more survivors coming forward, increased public attention, and reporters on the case, justice for victims is slowly growing. Many advocacy groups say it is not enough, and push for structural change within the Church itself. Their claims have grounding: a 2019 audit revealed some 14% of visited dioceses to have significant shortcomings, including poor record-keeping of background checks.
Statutes of Limitations in some states have been extended for Catholic Church sexual abuse cases, and such efforts are commendable and effective. In many states, however, criminal prosecution is now impossible. Civil lawsuits are an effective way for victims to find closure, and such lawsuits require a highly skilled, discreet, and sensitive legal team to succeed.
Thankfully, you are not alone. Our firm can help victims of abuse in the Diocese of Rockford find the justice they deserve. If you want to come forward, schedule a free consultation with our experienced, discreet, and professional lawyers today.