SPRINGFIELD — A city of Springfield employee appears on the list the Catholic Diocese of Springfield released last week that named priests it said had been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors.
Joseph D. Cernich, 62, of Springfield, was laicized, or stripped of his priestly duties, in June 2003 and hired by the city in November of the same year. Cernich currently works as a technical support specialist in City Water, Light and Power's information systems division and makes about $56,000 a year.
Requests for comment from Cernich went unanswered. He hung up when The State Journal-Register called his work phone number.
In response to a State Journal-Register inquiry into whether the new information affects Cernich's employment, city attorney Jim Zerkle wrote the "the situation is presently under review."
"... (C)onsistent with the City personnel policy, the City cannot comment on individual personnel matters," Zerkle wrote.
Cernich was one of 19 priests the diocese named as being a subject of "substantiated cases" of sexual abuse of minors, as determined by a diocesan review board created in 2002.
The list was made public on Thursday in response to a review by the Illinois Attorney General's office, which began an investigation in August following the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing that church leaders covered up sexual abuse allegations made against more than 300 priests in the past 70 years. At least seven priests identified in the Pennsylvania report had ties to Illinois.
Several of the priests named by the Diocese of Springfield have been identified before, and the allegations against them have been documented in local court records or media. However, the allegations against Cernich had not appeared in either, nor in BishopAccountability.org's Abuse Tracker, a website that documents cases of sexual misconduct by clergy.
Asked what the substantiated allegations against Cernich were, diocesean spokeswoman Marlene Mulford said the diocese would not offer any further information other than the list of names it released Thursday on its website, promise.dio.org. Mulford also declined to detail when and where Cernich served in the diocese, which covers 28 counties, including Macon County.
Mulford did say Cernich's "faculties were removed" in April 1995, meaning he was made inactive as a priest and was not allowed to celebrate Mass or administer sacraments. Laicization is the next step. It returns a member of the clergy back into a "lay" person, or non-ordained member of the church.
"We disclosed everything to the Attorney General," Mulford said in an earlier interview. "That information has already been given to them. We printed the list, which is what we've been asked for."
The Illinois Attorney General's Office declined to share details it received from the diocese about Cernich, citing its pending investigation.
Newspaper records show that after graduating from Griffin High School in 1974, he started studying for the priesthood at the diocesan Seminary of the Immaculate Conception later that year. He graduated from Springfield College, received a bachelor's degree from Cardinal Glennon College and received a master's degree from Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.
Cernich was ordained a Catholic priest in Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in mid-1983, according to a State Journal-Register article from the time. The summer before he was ordained, he served as a deacon at St. Mary's Church in Quincy and St. Ambrose Church in Godfrey.
The article said Cernich was "active in Teens Encounter Christ" and "taught summer school at Griffin High and served as a staff member for the Christian Family Camps."
The article said Cernich would be assigned as an associate pastor within the Diocese of Springfield. Several marriage and obituary notices from 1987 to 1989 list Cernich as the officiant and place the ceremonies at Blessed Sacrament Church in Springfield. Newspaper archives also show he officiated weddings and funerals at St. Agnes Church, St. Cabrini Church and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, all in Springfield, as well as Our Saviours Church in Jacksonville and St. Mary's Church in Canton.
The year before Cernich had his faculties removed, the Diocese of Springfield issued a new written policy in 1994 as part of the nationwide move by the Catholic Church to address sexual misconduct by clergy. The policy included that church personnel are required to report suspected sexual abuse to legal authorities and church officials, and that any that member of the clergy who admits to or is found guilty of sexual misconduct will be immediately removed from service.
The three other laicized priests on the diocese's list — Eugene Costa, Joseph Havey and Walter Weerts — were publicly accused of sexual abuse of minors. Costa, who served at Holy Family in Decatur from 1987-93, was beaten up by a 17-year-old and 15-year-old after he allegedly approached them in Douglas Park and told them he would pay them for sexual favors. Weerts was convicted in 1986 of sexually abusing three boys in the Quincy area and received a six-year prison sentence. Weertz tenure included time in Decatur after being ordained in 1960. Five former St. Agnes School students accused Havey of abusing them in the late 1970s and 1980s and were among the 28 victims of sexual abuse that split a $3 million settlement with the diocese in 2004.
Of the other priests on the diocese's list, 12 are dead. Three others — Garrett Neal Dee, Robert DeGrand and Francis Tebangura — are without the faculties of priesthood.
Mulford encouraged anyone with additional information on Cernich or any of the other priests listed to contact the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois Child Abuse Reporting and Investigation number at (217) 321-1155 or the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Child Abuse Hotline at (800)-25-ABUSE.
The diocesan review board that investigates and examines allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors is predominantly made up of lay people not employed by the diocese, who have professional experience in law enforcement, criminal and civil law, education and psychology, Mulford said.
A Springfield Police Department spokesman did not respond to a question about whether it planned to open investigations into people named on the diocese's list.
Sangamon County State's Attorney Dan Wright said his office "has not received any police reports related to active investigations of this nature" but will "continue to work with law enforcement and aggressively prosecute those responsible for sexual misconduct regardless of their position in our community."
Cernich applied for the position of "microcomputer trainer" in September 2003. According to his application, Cernich started working for the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Springfield in March 1995, the month before the diocese removed his faculties. According to the resume he submitted to the city, he held various positions in the charity's administrative office from 1995 to 2002, including administrative assistant to the executive director.
In his application to the city, he cited his reasons for leaving the Catholic Charities in 2002 as "resignation" and "family concerns."
In June 2003, Cernich was laicized. Mulford said laicization is "a process reserved to and conducted by the Holy See, separate and apart from an employment relationship with an agency such as Catholic Charities."
Mulford declined to say whether Cernich resigned or was fired.
Cernich was offered the job as a "microcomputer trainer" in the training office with a salary of $36,000. His employment offer was signed off on by then-Mayor Tim Davlin.
There is no record of complaints or disciplinary action in Cernich's city personnel file, which the newspaper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. All of the evaluations of Cernich in his personnel file are positive. In his most recent evaluation in 2016, his supervisor wrote, "Joe works will (sic) with his coworkers and is well liked by everyone."