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Paprocki_Thomas 1.30.18

Bishop Thomas Paprocki speaks during a mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in January. 

SPRINGFIELD — A list released Thursday by the Diocese of Springfield with the names of 19 priests accused of sexually abusing children includes at least six clergy who worked in Decatur at times.

The disclosure was in response to a review by the state Attorney General's office, which since August has been investigating the Roman Catholic Church after a Pennsylvania grand jury report identified at least seven priests with a connection to Illinois.

Springfield Diocese spokeswoman Marlene Mulford on Thursday declined a Herald & Review request to disclose where each of the 19 worked, but a review of public documents and newspaper clips show those with Decatur ties are:

  • Garrett Neal Dee, who worked at Holy Family Catholic Church in Decatur in 1971, according to a Springfield State Journal-Register article in 2002. He left his parish in Texas after acknowledging that he had sexually abused children while in the Catholic Diocese of Springfield years ago.
  • Walter Weerts, ordained in 1960, with positions in Godfrey, Granite City and Decatur, according to a 2003 State Journal-Register story. The diocese listed him as having been removed from the ministry.
  • Eugene Costa, a priest who formerly served at Holy Family Parish from 1987-93. He was severely beaten in a Springfield park in December 2004 by two young men after he allegedly propositioned them for sex, according to the report. He also was removed from the ministry.

Also on the list are three priests who have died: Robert Eagear, who was at St. Patrick Church in the 1930s; Frank Westhoff, also at St. Patrick, in the 1960s; and Ray Franzen, the first pastor of Holy Family Church from 1959-87.

The list does not detail when the alleged incidents occurred. Twelve clergy on the list are dead. 

The diocese said the list was determined by a review board in place since 2002 composed of predominantly lay people with professional backgrounds in areas such as state and local law enforcement, criminal and civil law, education and psychology. 

"Any single case of abuse is one too many," Bishop Thomas John Paprocki said in a statement. "But this review has shown the positive impact of a zero-tolerance approach, and we are committed to sustain these efforts with heightened vigilance."

The 129-parish diocese covers 28 Central Illinois counties and had 145,000 Catholics, including in the Decatur region. The Archdiocese of Chicago also added 10 new names to its list of clergy accused of child sex abuse on Thursday, as did officials in Peoria and Rockford.

The Pennsylvania grand jury report detailed decades of abuse and cover-up, alleging more than 1,000 children had been abused over the years by about 300 priests. Since then, a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has begun working on a federal criminal case centered on child exploitation, and attorneys general in at least 11 other states have launched investigations.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan said her office has met with all six Illinois dioceses and are looking through files.

“Our initial review has found the number of Catholic clergy in Illinois with credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors, is more extensive than the Church previously has disclosed to the public,” she said.

Madigan's office says they anticipate more names will be disclosed. 

“My investigation will continue in order to provide victims, parishioners and the public with a complete and accurate accounting of sexually abusive behavior with minors involving priests in Illinois," she said.

Several Roman Catholic bishops, including Paprocki, earlier this month urged colleagues at a U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting to take some sort of action on the clergy sex abuse crisis despite a Vatican order to delay voting on key proposals. Paprocki suggested a nonbinding vote to convey a sense of the bishops' aspirations regarding anti-abuse efforts.

"We are not branch managers of the Vatican," he said. "Our people are crying out for some action."

The Vatican has ordered a global meeting on sex abuse in February.

The other priests on the Springfield list are Alvin Campbell, Robert Dodd, Michael Driscoll, George Faller, George Kromenaker, Joseph C. O'Brien, Frank O'Hara, Daniel Ryan and Aloysius Schwellenbach, who are dead; Joseph Cernich and Joseph Havey, who are listed as laicized, or having been removed from ministry; and Robert DeGrand and Francis Tebangura, listed as being no longer with the church.

The Chicago Tribune, State Journal-Register and Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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