Following a ruling in Illinois’ Third District Appellate Court that could reinstate dismissed sexual abuse cases, Bishop of Peoria Daniel R. Jenky warned that the decision makes the diocese’s legal position even more difficult and voiced his concern that the Catholic Church “in effect, no longer enjoys equal justice under the law.”
The district court in January reversed a Peoria County court’s ruling that alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse had filed lawsuits against the diocese after each of them was older than thirty years of age.
Lawyers for the diocese and the accused priests argued that the deadline for filing the lawsuits had expired according to state law, Pantagraph.com reports.
In a weekend message to priests, deacons, religious and faithful of the Diocese of Peoria, Bishop Jenky discussed the legal cases.
He began by saying the saddest part of his ministry has been dealing with “our part of the immense societal issue of sexual misconduct with minors.”
In cases of “credible accusations” against individuals, the bishop said, he has not hesitated to remove them from ministry while trying “attentively” to follow the anti-sexual abuse charter set by the U.S. bishops.
“I have not discovered any evidence in this Diocese that priests guilty of misconduct were ever moved from assignment to assignment,” Bishop Jenky wrote.
Saying that his diocese normally offers counseling to victims instead of large cash settlements, he added “our Diocese resists supporting those claims that simply cannot be sustained by the facts.”
“I take very seriously my responsibility to protect all the children entrusted to our care, and I am absolutely convinced that today the programs of our Church now provide the safest possible environment in America for your children,” the bishop continued.
Noting his duty to work as a “prudent steward” of diocesan finances, Bishop Jenky charged that attorneys representing some clients and some “victims groups” obviously have “a significant financial stake in trying to overturn our Diocesan policies.”
The recent Illinois court decisions “may make our legal situation even more difficult in the future.”
He also charged the State with exempting its own institutions from civil litigation, claiming that the Catholic Church is being unfairly treated.
“Amid all the tensions of our nation's culture wars and in the face of the media's intense hatred for our Catholic Faith, I am increasingly concerned that our Church in effect no longer enjoys equal justice under the law.”
Turning to his critics, the bishop insisted “I will not be intimidated by choreographed demonstrations or the abuse that is sometimes personally directed against me.”
“I remain immensely proud of the zealous and holy priesthood of our Diocese,” his statement concluded. “May God guide and protect his Holy Church and bless us all in his service.”
After the 10:30 am Mass at Peoria’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on Sunday, supporters of the group Survivor’s Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) handed out fliers to people leaving Mass encouraging them ask the Bishop to tone down his criticisms.