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The Diocese’s History of Handling Claims of Child Sex Abuse by Clerics

The story of the Diocese of Peoria relating to child sex abuse is one of continuity of leadership. Bishops allowed the practices and attitudes of their predecessors to affect their handling of abuse cases, even as formal policies and practices changed. At the time Bishop Edward W. O’Rourke resigned in 1990, his successor, Bishop John J. Myers, was serving as the diocese’s coadjutor bishop and vicar general. And diocesan leaders who served under Bishop Myers continued to play prominent roles after he departed in 2001 — many continue in those roles today. 

The story of the Diocese of Peoria relating to child sex abuse is one of continuity of leadership. Bishops allowed the practices and attitudes of their predecessors to affect their handling of abuse cases, even as formal policies and practices changed.

Handling Child Sex Abuse Claims Before Bishop Myers’ Tenure

Of the 43 clerics disclosed by the Diocese of Peoria as having substantiated allegations of child sex abuse against them, the diocese claims to have received first notification of possible abuse by only nine of them before Bishop Myers assumed leadership in 1990:


Year of First Notice

Bishop at Time of First Notice

Bernard Tomaszewski



John Ryan



John Onderko



Robert Barnett



Lawrence Schumacher



Ron Roth



Richard Slavish



Louis Condon



Duane LeClercq




The scarcity of allegations does not reflect scarcity of abuse. To the contrary, diocesan documents show Bishop Joseph Schlarman was aware of abusive behavior by Father Bernard Tomaszewski. In a February 1946 letter to the priest, the bishop wrote:

There is sworn evidence in the Chancery Office that you have repeatedly taken indecent liberties with girls less than 16 years of age. According to the law of the State this is a criminal offense punishable with penitentiary. According to Moral Law it is a very heinous sin. According to Canon Law, since your criminal acts have become publicly known, it is a crimen grave publicum.

Yet there is no evidence the diocese took disciplinary action against Tomaszewski. Instead, Tomaszewski submitted his resignation as pastor to Bishop Franz. Franz granted Tomaszewski’s request, claiming that the resignation was due to Tomaszewski’s health problems. Franz also granted Tomaszewski an indefinite leave of absence from active ministry.

Diocesan documents relating to Father Duane LeClercq also evidence the downplaying of child sex abuse allegations (as well as poor recordkeeping) in the years preceding Bishop Myers. LeClercq, who was identified as having “unsubstantiated” allegations against him when the Attorney General’s investigation began, was abruptly disclosed and named on the diocese’s substantiated list in November 2018, purportedly because the diocese suddenly uncovered new documents confirming him as a child sex abuser. In particular, a 1991 memo by James Campbell, the vicar general, recounts an “offense” that occurred around 1985 but insists LeClercq is now “free from his former difficulty.” The diocese did not provide any contemporaneous files documenting the 1985 incident to the Attorney General’s investigators, but a 2018 memorandum by James Kruse, the vicar general, offers a few details on what happened. The police were informed that LeClercq had touched the genitals of a sleeping 16 year old boy. The priest and Myers, then the diocese’s vicar general, were called to the police station to make a report. There is no evidence of any action taken against LeClercq.

The lack of documentation, investigation, and disciplinary action during this time is also illustrated through deposition testimony Bishop Myers gave in a civil proceeding relating to child sex abuse:

Q: [D]uring the time that you worked … with then Bishop O’Rourke, did you discuss with him any of the priests of the diocese and any problems pertaining to sexual abuse that he was aware of?

A: No. Bishop O’Rourke was a very private man and he simply did not share that information with me.

Q: Did you ever ask him … if there had ever been any problems or allegations, complaints, pertaining to priests in the diocese and sexual abuse?

A: Asked him directly, no….

Murray Baker Bridge towards the city of Peoria, IllinoisMurry Baker Bridge towards the city of Peoria, Illinois

Handling Child Sex Abuse Claims During Bishop Myers’ Tenure

Bishop Myers was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Peoria in 1966. In 1977, he earned a degree in canon law and was appointed vice chancellor and vocation director of the diocese by Bishop O’Rourke. In 1984, Myers became vicar general, reporting directly to the bishop and responsible for many administrative tasks, including the handling of sex abuse allegations. After serving as Bishop O’Rourke’s deputy for approximately three years, Myers was made coadjutor bishop in 1987. In this role, he assisted the bishop in the administration of the diocese.

When Bishop Myers took over sole leadership of the diocese in 1990, child sex abuse allegations against clerics were beginning to increase. The chart below lists clerics against whom the diocese first received allegations of child sex abuse during Bishop Myers’ leadership.


Date of First Notice

Eugene Kane


Michael Van Acker


Samuel Pusateri


Toussaint Perron


Edward Lohan


William Harbert


Francis Engels


William Isermann


Robert Hughes


George Hiland


John Anderson


Norman Goodman


Walter Bruening


Colona in Henry County, IllinoisColona - Henry County, Illinois

As the allegations began to mount, Bishop Myers removed some priests from ministry but attempted to address these cases quietly and without “scandal.” In other instances, he purportedly lacked knowledge of the abuse allegation. In other cases, the bishop downplayed abuse. In yet others, he protected the accused, moving disgraced priests to new assignments or allowing them to retire after allegations surfaced.

A claimed lack of knowledge

As Bishop Myers explained it in his deposition testimony, there was “haphazard” recordkeeping while he was in charge:

But one of the things that happens, as I explained, in Peoria the Bishop’s office and the chancery are a block apart. And the tribunal was in the chancery. And someone, I don’t really know who it was, discovered that Monsignor Campbell – so everything, you know, got filed a little bit haphazardly.

 [B]ecause of the, perhaps slipshod filing system that we had between the two different buildings of the office of the Bishop, there may have been things that got by me.

And again, I underscore the kind of loose system that we had with the two different buildings in Peoria. And it could be sometimes two weeks of copies that I would get when they moved them from building to building and sometimes I didn’t have time to read them all.

And when asked whether reports were made to law enforcement about possible child sex abuse by diocese clerics, Myers deferred to this two-building system: “And very often I would simply delegate or presume that – that it was being handled by a person in [the other] office.” Myers appeared to use this two-building recordkeeping system to imply that he lacked knowledge of alleged abuse:

Q: Under canon law you’re aware that if there is an allegation of sexual abuse by a priest, the Bishop is required to conduct an investigation, correct?

A: If he knows about it.

Q: And the only way you could really know whether [certain behavior was criminal] was to investigate it?

A: If you knew about it.

When asked which accused clerics he was aware of during his tenure, Bishop Myers testified that there were “at least five,” able to name Francis Engels, William Harbert, John Anderson, Norman Goodman, and Louis Condon. But as illustrated in the chart above, the diocese documents reveal its knowledge of thirteen priests accused during Myers’ tenure of sexually abusing children.

Failure to discipline priests, protection of accused, desire to avoid publicity

Diocesan documents and Bishop Myers’ testimony also evidence the steps he took to protect clergy who had been accused of child sex abuse.

Q: Did you at any time ever make the information that you got concerning the investigation done by your officials available to the public by letting them know that priests were being removed because of credible allegations?

A: No. That was not the practice at the time.

Q: Why not?

A: It just wasn’t the practice. It has now become the practice but it wasn’t then.

Q: Did – did – was there something then in terms of practice in the canon law and the requirement to avoid scandal that kind of overrode or influenced the practice back then?

A: I think that there was a great sensitivity to caring for victims but also to the reputation of priests. If a priest loses his reputation, he’s done.

City Hall as seen from the Civic Center in Peoria, IllinoisCity Hall as seen from the Civic Center - Peoria, Illinois

In some instances, Myers simply assigned the accused priest to a new parish. In others, the bishop reinstated predator priests in their old parishes. When the mother of one survivor learned the bishop was planning to reinstate Father Francis Engels, who acknowledged molesting her son in the 1980s, she called the diocese to protest. “I didn’t realize they would be so upset,” the bishop explained.

Even for the worst offenders, Bishop Myers held open the possibility they might one day be put back into ministry. He told Father George Hiland he was not to publicly function as a priest “until such a time as you have completed a therapy program which is judged adequate by” the vicar general. When the religious order cleric Father Samuel Pusateri was arrested, charged, and sentenced to prison in 1991 for abusing a child, Myers allowed him to retain his faculties as a priest in the diocese until 1993. Even though he was ultimately forced to withdraw them, the bishop insisted there was a “possibility” he might be willing to restore Pusateri’s faculties “in the years ahead.”

At times, Myers even showered praise on priests who had been accused of child sex abuse. He wrote to Hiland: “I want to thank you for your generous and fine priestly service in the Diocese of Peoria. Literally thousands of people share this gratitude, and, I am sure, offer their prayers and best wishes to you.” And to Father Robert Hughes, a substantiated child sex abuser, the bishop wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your generous and effective ministry in the diocese these many years. But most of all, I would like to thank you for your many years of leadership as Pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Washington.”

Mistreatment of Survivors

Bishop Myers’ practices belie his assertion that “there was a great sensitivity to caring for victims” in the Diocese of Peoria. The claimed lack of knowledge, the failure to acknowledge credibly accused priests, and the efforts taken to protect the reputation of credibly accused priests are each enough to make a survivor’s efforts to heal more difficult. But beyond this, diocesan documents and survivor experiences shared with the Attorney General’s investigators reveal how the diocese responded to those who came forward with child sex abuse allegations during Bishop Myers’ tenure.

 A claimed lack of knowledge, unclear investigations, protection of the accused, and misdirection of survivors were all part of Bishop Myers’ era. When he left Peoria in October 2001 to become Archbishop of Newark, the problems he oversaw remained.

When a survivor came forward to report abuse by Father Edward Lohan in 1992, the diocese responded with a dismissive letter: “Father Lohan is now 78 years of age. He is retired and lives quietly in an apartment attached to a retirement home. Father has had a severe heart attack and has had part of a foot removed. He walks with the help of a … cane. I think it is safe to say that he is now in a position in which he can do some good and no harm.” In another case, the diocese publicly downplayed allegations against Monsignor Norman Goodman. When more than a dozen survivors of Goodman’s abuse came forward in 1998, the diocese’s response, according to one of them, was to paint Goodman as the victim. Because one survivor was still a child, the Logan County state’s attorney considered charging Goodman but ultimately declined to do so. The diocese responded by drafting a celebratory press release in which it reasserted that it “steadfastly believed in Msgr. Goodman’s innocence.” The press release also had a message for the survivors: “The Peoria Diocese is confident the issue will now be put to rest, and those involved will get on with their lives.”

 A claimed lack of knowledge, unclear investigations, protection of the accused, and misdirection of survivors were all part of Bishop Myers’ era. When he left Peoria in October 2001 to become Archbishop of Newark, the problems he oversaw remained.

Handling Child Sex Abuse Claims After Bishop Myers’ Tenure

Bishop Daniel Jenky became the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Peoria in 2002. He had no prior experience in the diocese, and his administration relied heavily on maintaining and elevating existing personnel. He named Monsignor Steven Rohlfs, who served under Bishop Myers, as vicar general, chancellor, and moderator of the curia. With an additional nod toward continuity, the diocese’s outside counsel, Patricia Gibson, left private practice to work directly for the diocese. She became vice chancellor and later the diocese’s first lay chancellor. Rohlfs and Gibson had significant involvement in responding to child sex abuse allegations against diocesan clerics during both Bishop Myers’ and Bishop Jenky’s tenures. Through them, some of Bishop Myers’ methods continued under Bishop Jenky’s leadership, even as the church as a whole was entering a new era with the advent of the Dallas Charter.

Bishop Jenky took over mere months before the Dallas Charter was released in 2002. In anticipation of this sea change, Bishop Jenky established a diocesan review commission with thirteen members charged with investigating child sex abuse allegations. He then announced that, as a result of this review, he had asked seven diocesan clerics to step down from public ministry based on sexual misconduct with children: Fathers Edward Bush, John Anderson, Robert Creager, Walter Bruening, Richard Slavish, Norman Goodman, and Gregory Plunkett. Days later, Father Michael Van Acker too was removed.

Bishop Jenky’s public announcements represented a bold step toward accounting for child sex abuse by diocese clerics. They also represented a step away from the “keep it quiet” approach employed by his predecessors. But the bishop’s efforts to clean up the errors of his predecessors were not without incident. For example, in November 2018 the diocese announced it was disclosing three additional clerics as substantiated child sex abusers: Fathers George Hiland, John Onderko, and Duane LeClercq. The diocese had received allegations against these priests before Bishop Jenky’s tenure, but somehow this information fell through the cracks during the review the bishop ordered back in 2002. Apparently, not until prompted by the Attorney General’s investigators to do so, did the diocese search files maintained by its vicars general for child sex abuse allegations, even though vicars general would have been closely involved in handling such claims.

For other priests, the diocese inexplicably failed to acknowledge credible allegations against them. For example, Father Samuel Pusateri was not identified as having been accused of child sex abuse, even though he was criminally convicted of having done so. Father Toussaint Perron pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a child and served three years in prison, but the diocese described the allegations against him as “unsubstantiated.” That’s the same term the diocese used to dismiss allegations against Father Eugene Kane, who admitted to oral sexual contact with a child in the back seat of his car. After the Attorney General’s investigation began, the diocese finally added these and other priests to its public list of credibly accused child sex abusers.

Leadership in the Diocese of Peoria Today

Bishop Jenky retired as Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria in early March 2022. During his tenure, Jenky took a number of steps forward in acknowledging child sex abuse by Catholic clerics. Most notably, Jenky publicly removed a number of clerics from ministry after they had been credibly accused of child sex abuse. Additionally, he attempted to correct the missteps of his predecessors, publicly acknowledging clerics with credible allegations received before he became bishop. He established a review commission to advise him on sexual abuse cases, and created the victims assistance coordinator position to directly interface with survivors.

The diocese did not publicly list clerics who were substantiated child sex abusers or acknowledge credibly accused religious order or extern priests until after the Attorney General’s investigation began.

Jenky was not able to entirely distance the diocese from past administrations, including its unclear recordkeeping and inadequate investigations. The diocese did not publicly list clerics who were substantiated child sex abusers or acknowledge credibly accused religious order or extern priests until after the Attorney General’s investigation began. Likewise, the diocese made written reports of a significant number of child sex abuse claims against clerics to local state’s attorneys only after the Attorney General’s investigation began. Finally, based on certain survivor accounts, the diocese’s treatment of survivors under Bishop Jenky was less than exemplary.


Bishop Louis Tylka became the ninth bishop for the Diocese of Peoria in March 2022. Like Jenky, Tylka had no prior connection to the Diocese of Peoria, born in the Chicago suburbs and spending the majority of his career working in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Only time will tell if Bishop Tylka will continue to push the Diocese of Peoria forward in handling cases of child sex abuse by Catholic cleric

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Scroll of Abusive Clerics/Brothers | Diocese of Peoria



Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*