CARBONDALE — Victims and advocates are calling on the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, which covers Southern Illinois, to provide a fuller view of the sexual offenders who have served as priests in the Southern Illinois area.
The Diocese’s list publicly names 17 priests who are “currently removed from ministry after credibly substantiated allegations of the sexual abuse of minors, or serious sexual misconduct with adults.”
But David Clohessy and Larry Antonsen, of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, believe names need to be added to that list, starting with nine clerics who worked in downstate Illinois, and have been accused of molesting children in other parts of the state or country, by other factions of the Catholic church.
“These are priests who, for the most part, were ordained somewhere else, worked a lot of their career somewhere else, molested somewhere else, but also spent time in Southern Illinois,” Clohessy said.
Six of those clergymen worked in the Belleville area: Thomas Meyer, Emil Twardochleb, Michael Charland, Orville Munie, Paul Kabat and James Vincent Fitzgerald.
They were publicly named after a lawsuit required their religious order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, to disclose every Oblate in the United States “against whom there has ever been a credible accusation of sexual abuse of a minor or possession of child pornography,” the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
“Credibly accused” is the standard language used by the Catholic Church for priests who are believed to have committed sexual misconduct, following an investigation by a diocese or religious order.
Several of those credibly accused priests also worked in other downstate towns.
Charland led “a youth program in Sparta — Teens Encounter Christ Program — in the late ’70s,” the News-Democrat reported, while Munie held assignments in Toluca, Mendota, Bethany and Campus, Illinois, according to Anderson Advocates, a Minnesota law firm specializing in clergy sexual abuse cases.
Another priest that SNAP seeks to highlight was a former instructor at the SIU Carbondale University School — a high school, junior high and grade school administered by SIU until the early 1970s. Larry Lorenzoni, an Italian-born priest of the Salesian order, lectured in mathematics in Carbondale, from 1966 to 1971, his obituary states.
Lorenzoni has been accused of sexual abuse by two former students, in incidents between 1958 and 1960, according to Anderson Advocates.
He was named in a report by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2004 as a priest publicly accused of sexual misconduct. Records do not indicate whether the allegations were investigated by the church, but do show Lorenzoni eventually left the archdiocese.
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Lorenzoni vehemently denied the accusations in the press until his death in 2017.
Like Lorenzoni, most of the accused Belleville-area clergy are now deceased.
Despite that fact, and the very limited contact that the accused priests appear to have had in deep Southern Illinois, SNAP leaders said it’s important the region be informed.
“Based on our 30 years of experience, I’m very confident that there’s a guy in Carbondale tonight who’s going to put away three six-packs of beer to numb the pain that he suffers from just one brief but horrific encounter with one of these priests,” said Clohessy, himself a survivor. “He needs to know that he’s not alone, it’s not his fault, and he can get better.”
In mid-December, a report from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan revealed that accusations of abuse against clergy were much more widespread than Illinois' six dioceses had previously reported.
Madigan’s investigation found as many as 690 allegations of abuse by Catholic clergy, the Associated Press reported, while Illinois' six dioceses had previously reported finding 185.
Clohessy called the scandal a “betrayal” of Catholics everywhere.
“Catholic officials recruited, ordained, hired, trained, supervised, moved and covered for these priests,” Clohessy said. “Those same Catholic officials now have a duty to warn the public about them.”
The remaining two priests SNAP wants included on the Belleville list are Frederick Lenczycki, of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, who was “removed from ministry in 2002, convicted of sexual abuse in 2004 and given a five-year prison sentence,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and Kenneth J. Roberts, who was suspended from the ministry and defrocked after multiple minors accused him of molestation, including in Belleville, in 1984.
Representatives of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville could not be reached for comment on whether the diocese would publish the names of priests accused in other dioceses or states.
The current list maintained by the diocese does not include any priests accused elsewhere, Clohessy said.
SNAP is also calling on Belleville Bishop Edward Braxton to reveal the work histories, photos and whereabouts of every accused priest or deacon.
“We’re calling on the bishop to aggressively to reach out to victims, and to beg witnesses and whistle-blowers to come forward,” Clohessy said “Most of these men are deceased and can’t be prosecuted, but several of them are still alive.”