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Crime & Courts

Diocese of Joliet sex abuse documents name priests with Bensenville ties

Thousands of pages of documents released April 30 by a Chicago law firm detail decades of sexual abuse by DuPage County priests, including three priests who worked at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bensenville, and the protection they allegedly received from the Diocese of Joliet.

The files of 16 priests accused of abuse, long held confidential by the diocese, were obtained and released by Jeff Anderson and Associates to coincide with five new lawsuits filed by the firm against four offenders.

Priests named in the diocesan documents include the Rev. Anthony Ross, who worked as pastor at St. Charles Borromeo from 1990 until 1993; the Rev. Michael Gibbney, who worked as associate pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bensenville from 1980 until 1986 and associate pastor at St. Charles Borromeo Parish from 1986 until 1988; and the Rev. James Burnett, who worked as an associate at St. Charles Borromeo Parish from 1968 until 1974.

Ross was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1981 or 1982, according to documents. He was later put on a leave of absence from St. Charles Borromeo in 1993, after the victim said he would forego litigation if Ross were removed from ministry, documents state.

Gibbney is accused of sexually abusing at least 11 victims, according to documents. He was laicized in 2010 to marry and lives in Oak Forest, documents state.

Among other allegations of abuse, Burnett was accused of sexually abusing a boy during his time at St. Charles Borromeo, according to documents. The boy was 9 to 12 years old when Burnett allegedly abused him.

The diocesan documents released by the law firm show a pattern of secrecy from Joliet diocese bishops, who regularly failed to remove or report priests accused of child sexual abuse, instead moving them to new parishes where they would often repeat the behavior.

The suits brought by the firm seek an unspecified settlement for damages suffered by victims in the ’60s, ’70s and early ’80s. They also seek a court order that “[stops] practices that imperil children and requires them to come clean and publicly disclose files of all [priests accused of abuse],” Anderson said May 1.

The recently released files are a portion of 34 sought by the firm, he said.

“We’re working very hard with the survivors to reveal the past so it’s not repeated,” Anderson said. “The diocese and the bishops have a long history of concealing the past and their role in the crimes committed by the clerics.

“It’s classic tension between those who want to reveal the painful truth and those who want to hide it.”

Diocese spokesman Ed Flavin said that, in accordance with common business practice, the diocese does not release confidential files of employees, and the 16 files turned over to the firm were done so under court order.

“We do, however, share any and all information which is relevant to an ongoing investigation with law enforcement or as instructed to do so by the court,” Flavin said. “We make available any and all credible allegations of priests on our website.”

The priests cited in the lawsuit are the Rev. Leonardo Mateo, the Rev. Lee Ryan, the Rev. Lowell Fischer and the Rev. Frederick Lenczyzki.

In a statement, the Diocese of Joliet said it had not yet been served with the five lawsuits filed in Will County, and would “respond in an appropriate forum” once it reviewed the specifics of the pleadings.

“Anyone who may have been sexually abused as a minor by a member of the clergy, employee or volunteer of the diocese is urged to report the abuse to civil authorities and to the diocese,” the statement read. “Reports may be made to any pastor or by contacting the diocese’s director for the Office of Child and Youth Protection at 815-221-6116.

“Dealing with the tragic history of child abuse is part of the Church’s ministry today. The people of the Diocese of Joliet pray every day for those who have been abused and for those responsible for it. They ask the Lord for healing for all His people who suffer for what has happened in their midst. With God’s help, the diocese will continue to do its best to assure the safety of its children.”

To view the documents, visit www.abusedinchicago.com.

Editor Mary Beth Versaci contributed to this report.

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