Here's Hoping Diocese Gets Fair Coverage

The Herald News [Joliet IL]
July 6, 2006

The way The Herald News has characterized the Joliet Diocese and its former bishop, the Most Rev. Joseph Imesch, regarding the abuse of children has been tragically flawed.

Of course, any child who has been abused by a priest is one too many. In reality, though, the situation in the Joliet Diocese is better than — sometimes far better than — average when compared to other dioceses in the United States in terms of percentages of priests who have abused children, numbers of victims, and monetary costs to the diocese. Unfortunately, some of the writers, columnists and editors portrayed the diocese and Imesch in a way that made Joliet seem like one of the worst places in the country. The paper has a responsibility to provide not only facts, but to put the story in proper perspective. They failed miserably in that.

Also, not enough attention has been paid to the actions of Imesch and the diocese since 2002. The diocese's response with the program of Protecting God's Children and safeguards put in place to protect young people has been exemplary. These should have been mentioned more and commended in newspaper reports. Many readers were intentionally misled these past four years into believing Joliet was somehow one of the worst dioceses or a particularly problematic diocese, when it clearly was not.

Further, according to IRS filings reported in Forbes Magazine, SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) has been significantly funded by lawyers that are currently suing the Diocese of Joliet. Reporters at The Herald News knew this, yet they often sought quotes for their stories from leaders and members of SNAP who were eager to comment. They tended to be hyperbolic in their criticism of Imesch, which would be understandable given their very existence depended on the support of lawyers wanting to destroy the bishop and the diocese. At the very least the readers of The Herald News deserved to know about the relationship between the lawyers and SNAP. Then readers could decide for themselves what weight to give to the disparaging claims made against the bishop by members of this group, many of whom do not even live in this diocese.

Certainly a huge apology is owed to Imesch, who had to endure a trial conducted in the paper where the writers and columnists assumed the role of prosecutor, judge, jury and, at times, executioner. When the bishop's deposition was made public earlier this year, some of the reporters and columnists, in their zeal to uncover a story, went over-the-top in their attack of the bishop. They even became bullies, criticizing those of us who wanted to support the bishop, by claiming that supporters of the bishop were either part of the problem or uncaring toward victims and the abuse they suffered. Everyone is outraged by the actions of the priests who abused children. We were all offended by some of the bishop's comments in the deposition. In a way, the bishop has a "Mayor Daley-like" personality when it comes to being asked difficult questions over and over. Many of us know that one deposition does not a person make, and that there is much more to a person than his greatest mistakes.

Particularly troubling is how they treated the bishop as he approached retirement. When the focus should have been on the announcement of Bishop Peter Sartain's coming to Joliet and of hope for the future, the paper instead continued its focus in attacking Imesch, hoping his legacy and memory would be forever tarnished. They showed themselves to be allies of those who wanted to destroy him.

It was especially regrettable to include the column by Tim Placher on the very day of the installation of the new bishop. He said he met with Imesch in March, and it took him until June 27 to report about it. That the paper would allow him to use the label he chose for the bishop is unconscionable. No one deserves the kind of treatment they forced Imesch to endure these past few years, especially these past few months. The paper wrongfully chose to define the bishop by his deepest regrets and demonize him in the process.

Given the extremely warm reception and standing ovation Imesch received at the installation Mass of the new bishop, we know that the vast majority of Catholics continue to love and respect him. In the end, we know that he is a good and decent man, a pastoral priest and a loving shepherd for his people. As he has shown us how to learn from his mistakes, may we strive to learn from ours.

I pray that with a new bishop in Joliet and a new publisher at The Herald News that the attitude will be that whatever has happened in the past is in the past. It's time for all of us, laity, priests, bishops, victims, lawyers, and reporters, to move on with a positive attitude.

- The Rev. John Regan is former vocation director for the Diocese of Joliet


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