Diocesan diddlers

Bishop releases list of abusers

 I wonder about Virginia Galloway.

In 2004, she sued the Diocese of Springfield, alleging an awful thing. In the late 1960s, when she was 10 years old, she said that the Rev. Richard Niebrugge took her under his care as a foster child and began sexually abusing her. A decade later, she said in her lawsuit, she gave birth to his child.

In 1983, five years after Galloway had a baby, Niebrugge died. But enablers remained, according to the lawsuit that named as defendants the Rev. Herman Niebrugge, the priest’s brother who died in 2004, and the Rev. Theodore Baumann, who retired in 2008 after a career spent as a holy man – last year, he was reported to be living at a retirement home for priests in Belleville. Both Herman Niebrugge and Baumann, Galloway said in her lawsuit, knew that she was being abused but didn’t report it and did nothing to stop it.

Courts ruled that Galloway didn’t sue soon enough, and her case was dismissed without being considered on its merits. Galloway had issues, her own lawyer acknowledged when she sued. Psychological problems included a multiple personality disorder brought on, at least in part, by being sexually abused by a priest, attorney Rex Carr said more than a decade ago. No DNA testing had been performed prior to filing suit, Carr told the media, but there were “millions of factual statements that connect him to her” and he expected that science would confirm claims made in court.

“We want, to the best of our ability, to find out what happened and make sure some healing occurs,” Kathie Sass, then diocesan spokeswoman, told the Belleville News-Democrat when the lawsuit was filed. “If anyone has been abused, we want to do what is right.”

Fourteen years later, Bishop Thomas Paprocki is saying much the same thing now that the diocese, under pressure from attorney general Lisa Madigan, has released the names of 19 priests who have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors. Cases date back as far as 1951, the bishop says. A dozen of the priests named last week are dead. Niebrugge isn’t on the list.

“I’ve never heard of this case,” Paprocki told me during an interview. He promised to look into it. By day’s end, he sent an email: The diocese hasn’t substantiated allegations contained in Galloway’s lawsuit. What steps did the diocese take to determine the truth? The bishop didn’t give a direct answer. The truth, Paprocki wrote, is difficult to determine, given the passage of time. He also said the diocese has no proof of paternity. “That is the reason why there are statutes of limitation, since it is difficult to ascertain the truth many years later when memories fade and key parties are dead,” the bishop wrote.

I had no luck finding Galloway, who at last report was living in Georgia. Carr, her lawyer, died in 2015. It should have been easy via DNA testing to prove or disprove Galloway’s claims when she made them. Instead, the diocese appeared to put its energies into getting the case dismissed.

Paprocki says that priests have a duty to report sexual misconduct by brethren if their knowledge was obtained outside the confessional booth. As for victims of clerical sexual misconduct whose wrongs can’t be addressed by courts due to the passage of time, Paprocki was less certain. Counseling, he suggested, might be one remedy. “I would ask the person bringing the allegation, ‘What are you looking for from the church?’” the bishop said.

The church, quick to damn those whose thoughts differ from doctrine, would finish last in a race with glaciers when it comes to telling the truth about sexual predation in the priesthood. Paprocki himself has criticized Pope Francis, who last summer ducked questions about whether he had covered up or ignored abuse by Theodore McCarrick, who resigned as a cardinal last summer after credible allegations of sexual misconduct involving seminarians and an altar boy became public.

Why did it take so long for the Springfield diocese to release names of priests who’ve been credibly accused of sexually abusing kids? “I would say the attorney general’s investigation prompted us to review our files,” Paprocki offers. “It’s not like I had a list of names in my drawer.”

The names posted on the diocesan website are just that, names and only names. No hint of just what these priests might have done, where they might have done it or when. And so we’re left to wonder whether folks like Eugene Costa, the former priest who was beaten by two teenage boys in Douglas Park in 2004 after soliciting them for sex, made one bad decision or just picked the wrong two boys that time.

In the future, the bishop promises, the diocese will publish both findings and disciplinary action taken when sexual misconduct allegations are substantiated. But the diocese won’t do that with priests named last week. Protecting the privacy of victims, he said, is part of the reason. “If we’re dealing with cases from the past, I would question what’s the point of making all that information known,” the bishop adds.

Lots of reasons come to mind, starting with establishing trust, which grows with transparency. We should know what, if anything, was done when priests were caught diddling kids, and we should know who was in charge if cops didn’t get called.

In the meantime, I’ll keep wondering about Virginia Galloway. Perhaps someone will conduct a paternity test or otherwise take steps to determine the truth – and make that truth public -- so that stains either can be removed from accused priests’ names or a victim can have some semblance of justice, regardless of courtroom maneuverings.

There is, after all, a moral aspect to this.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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