Diocese of Rockford issues statement on sexual assault lawsuit

By  | 

CHICAGO (WIFR) -- Updated: Oct. 18, 2018, 10:30 p.m.

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) -- Several sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church are happening around the country and Thursday we find out it's here in the stateline. Four alleged sexual assault survivors are taking legal action against every Illinois diocese. Some residents say this trend comes as no surprise.

“Everybody thinks it's good here but I guess not,” said Lena resident Diane Finn.

Four alleged sexual assault survivors filed a lawsuit against six dioceses in the state including the Diocese of Rockford. Heather Jacobs says the news hits close to home.

“I was sexually abused as a child and I just feel that how is it fair that you were damaged in so many ways and things you have to repair some people don't know how to repair them, and they have to deal with that the rest of their life,” said Rockford resident Heather Jacobs.

“Shocking. Sad. Those poor kids,” said Finn.

Diane Finn lives in Lena, the location of St. Joseph's church where alleged sexual assault survivor Josh Bollman says he was assaulted in 1999 by a former priest.

”During the sacrament of confession I was raped by a priest named Peter Kohler,” said Bollman.

“Priests were kind of known for that in the past, but you never heard about it for a long time and now all of a sudden it's happening again,” said Finn.

The lawsuit alleges each diocese is keeping secrets and withholding names of clergy members who have been accused of sexual abuse.

“The Diocese of Rockford has not disclosed any lists of offenders accused or creditably accused. Nothing. Silence. Secrecy,” said attorney Jeff Anderson.

"Something’s got to be done about it,” said Finn.

In a statement the Diocese of Rockford said in part, “While allegations against the Rockford Diocese are rare, we remain vigilant in regularly reviewing and updating our policies and encouraging victims of abuse to comes forward and report the abuse…”

------

Updated: Oct. 18, 2018, 1:25 p.m.

The Diocese of Rockford released a statement in response to a lawsuit against all Catholic dioceses and bishops in Illinois.

The diocese says it has codes of conduct in place for priests and other employees, in addition to procedures for responding to sexual abuse allegations.

According to the statement, the diocese also encourages victims of abuse to come forward, report to local authorities and contact the Diocesan Abuse hotline at 815-293-7540 for assistance.

The full statement reads:

"The Diocese of Rockford, along with the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, and Springfield are currently in full cooperation with the State Attorney General’s office inquiry into each diocese’s handling of childhood sex abuse claims against clergy.

So as to a response to the lawsuit announced and filed this morning by Mr. Jeff Anderson, there will need to be further review of what this lawsuit seeks to accomplish beyond that of the State’s Attorney General.

For decades, the Diocese of Rockford has had in place codes of conduct for its priests and diocesan employees, as well as procedures for responsibly responding to allegations of sexual abuse. In 2002 the Rockford Diocese implemented additional policies and procedures in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that year.

Every priest, employee and volunteer who comes in contact with children in the Rockford Diocese or its parishes and schools, must undergo a criminal background check and complete training in our Safe Environment programs in order to prevent, detect, and report abuse of any kind by any person. Students in both our Catholic Schools and our religious education programs are trained with age appropriate materials to identify, avoid and report abuse. The Diocese of Rockford prohibits any priest with a credible accusation of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult from functioning as a priest or engaging in ministry.

Also since 1987, the Diocese has formally provided assistance to victims of sexual abuse unconditionally.

While allegations in the Rockford Diocese are rare, we remain vigilant in regularly reviewing and updating our policies and encouraging victims of abuse to come forward and report the abuse to law enforcement authorities in the county where the abuse occurred, and to contact the Diocesan Abuse hotline at 815-293-7540 or reportsexualabuse@rockforddiocese.org for victim assistance.

The Diocese of Rockford enforces these policies because our first priority is and will always be to provide safe environments in which the people of God can serve and be served especially our young people."

------

Published: Oct. 18, 2018, 10:50 a.m.

Three alleged sexual assault survivors and their attorneys plan to announce the filing of a lawsuit against every Catholic diocese and bishop in Illinois.

The survivors claim the bishops were part of a conspiracy to not disclose the names and files of clergy accused of child sexual abuse. The survivors say they hope all priests involved in the conspiracy will "come clean."

WIFR will stream an 11 a.m. news conference regarding the lawsuit..