Report:: Retired Bishop Led 'Culture of Secrecy'

Catholic Online
August 7, 2006

Springfield, Ill. - Retired Springfield Bishop Daniel L. Ryan "engaged in improper sexual conduct and used his office to conceal his activities" when he headed the diocese, said an investigative report released by the diocese Aug. 2.

It said Bishop Ryan, Springfield's bishop from 1984 to 1999, fostered "a culture of secrecy ... that discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct" by other clergy in the diocese.

The investigation did not address sexual abuse of minors by church personnel, for which the diocese has a separate process. But it found evidence of other misconduct in a few parishes and of inappropriate use of church-owned computers.

The report recommended policies and procedures for dealing with criminal and noncriminal misconduct by clergy, holding parishes to tighter standards of financial accountability and creating a model policy throughout the diocese for computer and Internet use.

The report stemmed from an investigation commissioned by Springfield Bishop George L. Lucas and conducted between February 2005 and July 2006. It said the investigator found "serious misconduct by a small number of priests" but confirmed that "the overwhelming majority of the priests in the Springfield Diocese are devoted, generous servants of Christ and the church."

Bishop Lucas asked J. William Roberts, managing partner of the Chicago-Springfield law firm Hinshaw and Culbertson, to conduct the investigation. Roberts is a former chief legal counsel to the Illinois governor and a former U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois.

A panel of five prominent Catholics, including a state police investigator, a state senator and a nun who heads a 13-hospital Catholic health system, was appointed to oversee the investigation and meet regularly with Roberts to review his findings.

The panel's report, released at a press conference, said Bishop Lucas commissioned the independent investigation "amid a climate of increasing doubt and mistrust" occasioned by two events in late 2004:

-- The then-diocesan chancellor, Msgr. Eugene Costa, "was attacked by two young men after he allegedly propositioned them for sex in a city park."

-- Thomas Munoz, an area resident, claimed he had participated in sexual activities with Bishop Lucas, five priests of the diocese and three unnamed seminarians.

The report says Roberts found all of Munoz's claims false and without merit, saying Munoz failed a polygraph examination, refused to cooperate further after that, and "has a documented history of criminal and deceptive behavior."

Msgr. Costa was immediately removed from public ministry after the incident in the park, the report says, and "Bishop Lucas is taking the necessary steps within canon law to permanently bar Msgr. Costa from future ministry."

The two young men who beat Msgr. Costa were sentenced to 30 months in prison in July 2005. Civil authorities decided not to pursue charges against the priest.

The report said that, while Bishop Ryan denied engaging in sexual misconduct with adults, "this behavior did occur and caused scandal in the church." It noted that Bishop Ryan, who now lives in a retirement facility in another diocese, is no longer engaged in public ministry.

"An investigation continues into Msgrs. (John) Renken and (Kenneth) Steffen, who are now on leave because of allegations of personal and ministerial misconduct," the report said.

In its recommendations concerning future charges of clergy misconduct, the panel recommended that "the functions of both the panel and the independent investigator should be retained." It also recommended keeping a confidential telephone hot line and e-mail address that people with concerns could use to report questionable conduct.

It said allegations of criminal behavior by clergy should be immediately referred to civil authorities. If the behavior in question is not criminal, "the bishop should use all means available within canon and civil law to ensure the safety of all persons, to protect the integrity of the church as an institution, to assist those harmed and to hold accountable those accused of misconduct," it said.

Noting that it was not dealing with cases of misconduct with minors, the panel recommended that if a priest has clearly acknowledged and repented the behavior he should be allowed to return to ministry once he is "sufficiently in recovery so as not to present a threat to the spiritual, psychological or physical well-being of himself or others." When abuse of minors is involved, a priest cannot be returned to ministry.

The report said evidence of "improper financial activities" was reported at several parishes.

It said the bishop should require that a parish financial council meet at least quarterly in every parish. It called for tighter financial oversight by the diocese, including unannounced audits and automatic review whenever pastors are changed or whenever there is "reason to suspect impropriety."

Roberts "identified instances of misconduct where computers were used to access inappropriate sites and were otherwise employed in a manner inconsistent with the mission of the church," the report said.

It called for a strong, detailed policy regulating the use of church-owned computers, including "random computer audits" to enforce the policy.

Kathie Sass, diocesan communications director, said Bishop Lucas said he would implement the report's recommendations. She said the panel's current members have agreed to remain on the panel and to establish staggered term limits for the panel's future existence.

Bishop Lucas commended the panel for its work.

"We strive to do the work of the Gospel with integrity and sometimes we fall short," he said. "We must not deny or cover up our failings. With prayer, with rigorous honesty and with a desire for repentance and reconciliation, we will continue to be reformed individually and as a church."


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