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

The Diocese of Springfield’s handling of child sex abuse allegations is a story of failed leadership—leadership that allowed clerics to sexually abuse children in the diocese for decades, first under the leadership of Bishop William A. O’Connor (bishop from 1949 to 1975), then under Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas (bishop from 1975 to 1983), and then under Bishop Daniel L. Ryan (bishop from 1984 to 1999). Through it all, men leading the Diocese of Springfield for 50 years chose to protect the reputation of the church and its clerics, rather than attempt to ensure the physical and mental well-being of its children.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge in Lawrence, IllinoisLincoln Memorial Bridge - Lawrence, Illinois

Bishop William A. O’Connor

Father Walter M. Weerts, a priest in the Diocese of Springfield, sexually abused children—in 1986 he pleaded guilty to doing so and was sentenced to six years in prison. Between 1961 and 1975 Bishop O’Connor gave Weerts eight parish assignments within the diocese:

1961: Saint Clare, Altamont, IL
1961-1963: Saint Ambrose, Godfrey, IL
1963-1967: Sacred Heart, Granite City, IL
1967-1972: Saint Thomas the Apostle, Decatur, IL
1972: Saint Paul, Highland, IL
1972-1978: Sacred Heart, Villa Grove, IL
1972-1978: Saint Michael, Hume, IL
1972-1978: Saint Thomas Aquinas, Brocton, IL

Eight parish assignments between 1961 and 1975 does not, in and of itself, seem out of the ordinary. After all, the diocese told Attorney General investigators that not until 1985 did it receive reports that Weerts may have been sexually abusing children. The diocese’s own files prove otherwise. Weert’s inappropriate conduct with children first came to Bishop O’Connor’s attention more than 20 years earlier, in 1962, when Weerts was assigned to Saint Ambrose parish in Godfrey. That year, Father Frank Westhoff—a substantiated child sex abuser himself, and discussed elsewhere in this report—told Bishop O’Connor that Weerts was engaging in inappropriate activities with young boys. Westhoff discussed his 1962 meeting with Bishop O’Connor decades later with diocesan officials, who recorded Westhoff’s recollections in an internal 2003 memorandum. Westhoff told the diocesan officials that he had been “approached by parents who told him their son was doing strange things with Father Weerts, namely, wrestling. Father Westhoff said that was not strange but they replied that it happened in the nude.” Westhoff recounted to the diocesan officials that eight other families came forward the next week with similar complaints. Westhoff agreed all of this was sufficiently “strange” and requested a meeting with Bishop O’Connor. He brought with him to the meeting a list of children who he thought might be at risk. But when Westhoff “told the Bishop about Father Weerts, the Bishop replied that Father Westhoff was just engaging in self-aggrandizement at the expense of the reputation of another priest. The Bishop simply refused to accept the list of names Father Westhoff had prepared and told him to take it home.”

Diocesan records reveal that twenty-two children in the diocese later reported abuse by Weerts between the time Bishop O’Connor was informed in 1962 about Weert’s “strange” activities with children and the time Weerts pleaded guilty in 1986 to child sex abuse. Twenty-two children may have been spared had Bishop O’Connor chosen to act, rather than center his concern on “the reputation of another priest.” Twenty-two children. And diocesan records reveal that Bishop O’Connor’s inaction was not limited to Weerts.

Father Aloysius Schwellenbach is another substantiated child sex abuser who was a priest in the Diocese of Springfield. He ministered in the diocese from 1945 through 1984. During Bishop O’Connor’s leadership, Schwellenbach had nine assignments within the diocese:

1948-1951: Saint John the Baptist, Quincy, IL
1950-1951: All Saints, Quincy, IL
1951-1952: Saint Joseph, Granite City, IL
1952-1954: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Springfield, IL
1954-1964: Pontifical Society for the Propagation of the Faith
1954-1964: Residence Saint Barbara, Springfield, IL
1964-1969: Saint Margaret Mary, Granite City, IL
1969-1970: Saints Simon and Jude, Gillespie, IL
1970-1984: Saint John the Baptist, Quincy, IL

Fall foliage in the hills of Pike County, IllinoisFall Foliage in the Hills - Pike County, Illinois

Diocesan records reveal that the diocese first learned of reported child sex abuse by Schwellenbach in 1968, while Bishop O’Connor led the diocese. Those records also reveal that when the report of abuse came in from “civil authorities,” the “matter was handled by the Chancery Office.” As a result, Schwellenbach continued to minister at parishes within the diocese through 1984. And, as with Weerts, diocesan records reveal multiple children were abused by Schwellenbach after diocese leadership determined in 1968 that claimed child sex abuse by Schwellenbach would be “handled by the Chancery Office.” One of those children later reported to the diocese that Schwellenbach had repeatedly raped him in the 1970s while Schwellenbach was assigned to Saint John the Baptist parish in Quincy, years after Schwellenbach’s child sex abuse was first reported to the diocese.

Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas

Father Alvin Campbell pleaded guilty but mentally ill, to child sex abuse in 1985. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Between 1978 and 1982 Bishop McNicholas (who succeeded Bishop O’Connor in 1975) gave Campbell seven parish assignments within the diocese:

1978: Saint Jude, Rochester, IL
1978-1979: Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Springfield, IL
1979-1981: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Assumption, IL
1979-1981: Mission Church of St. Francis de Sales, Moweaqua, IL
1982: Mother of Perpetual Help, Maryville, IL
1982: Christ the King, State Park, IL
1982-1985: Saint Maurice, Morrisonville, IL

 Campbell was indicted for child sex abuse during his final parish assignment. While a shock to most in the diocese, Campbell’s indictment should not have come as a surprise to Bishop McNicholas, who had been warned about the priest. Campbell had served as a chaplain in the United States Army from 1963 to 1977. He retired from the military in late 1977 and sought assignment in the Diocese of Springfield. Prior to Campbell’s arrival, a senior army chaplain telephoned the diocese regarding the priest. In a January 1978 memorandum to Bishop McNicholas, a diocesan official explained to the bishop that the army chaplain disclosed in the telephone call that “Campbell has a moral problem with boys/young men and this has surfaced and was being brought against him when he chose to resign. . . . [T]he matter had been handled ‘sub secreto’ through the Military delegate in Germany and there had been no scandal through publicity.”

Diocesan records show that Campbell sexually abused children soon after leaving the military and starting ministry in the diocese. The details surrounding that abuse are discussed elsewhere in this report, in a narrative relating to Campbell. Critical here—in order to grasp the gravity of Bishop McNicholas’s failed leadership—is that diocesan records also reveal that Campbell reportedly abused 33 children while ministering in the Diocese of Springfield. Each of those children was abused after Bishop McNicholas was warned by the United States Army in 1978 that Campbell “has a moral problem with boys.” Yet, despite the warning in 1978, Bishop McNicholas assigned Campbell to minister in seven diocesan parishes—parishes in which Campbell encountered those 33 children. And this was not the only time Bishop McNicholas ignored a warning about a priest sexually abusing the children of the diocese.

An additional warning concerned Father Walter Weerts, the same priest Father Frank Westhoff cautioned Bishop O’Connor about in 1962, when Bishop O’Connor chose not to act. The second opportunity for a Bishop of the Diocese of Springfield to stop Weerts from abusing children came in 1978 to Bishop McNicholas. Weerts was then assigned to Sacred Heart parish in Villa Grove, when the parents of a boy requested a meeting with Bishop McNicholas because they were considering filing criminal charges against the priest for taking “indecent liberties” with their young son. “Please don’t feel that we are making these accusations without much soul searching,” the boy’s parents wrote the bishop. They explained: “We are concerned not only with [Weerts’s] mental health, but also with his future moral character. We will pursue this not only for our son, but for the other children that Father will come in contact with in the future.”

Rather than meet with the boy’s parents, Bishop McNicholas accepted Weerts’s resignation from Sacred Heart and transferred him to Saint Mary of the Assumption in Sainte Marie and Saint Valentine in Bend. Even so, the boy’s parents continued their attempts to have Weerts removed from ministry. The details of their valiant efforts are discussed elsewhere in this report, in a narrative relating to Weerts. What is important to know here—in order to grasp the gravity of Bishop McNicholas’s failed leadership—is that between the time those parents notified the bishop in 1978 and Weerts pleaded guilty to child sex abuse in 1986, the priest was assigned to five parishes within the diocese:

1978-1979: Saint Mary of the Assumption, St. Marie, IL
1978-1979: Saint Valentine, Bend, IL
1979-1980: Saint Boniface, Edwardsville, IL
1980-1985: Saint Brigid, Liberty, IL
1980-1985: Saint Thomas, Camp Point, IL

Weerts encountered children at each parish.

Bishop Daniel L. Ryan

The Diocese of Springfield told Attorney General investigators that 1986 was the first year it received a report that Father Joseph Cernich sexually abused children. But diocesan records reveal that shortly after being named Bishop of Springfield in 1984, Bishop Ryan was reportedly warned about Cernich, who had been ordained a year earlier in 1983. The source of the warning later recounted to Bishop Ryan that he found “it astonishing that you would feel it worth the risk to put Fr. Cernich into a parish. He is too great a risk to teenage boys and young men between the ages of 16 and 21.” But like Bishops O’Connor and McNicholas before him, Bishop Ryan ignored the information. So “into a parish” Cernich went, first to Our Saviour in Jacksonville and then to Blessed Sacrament in Springfield. The diocese later received substantiated reports that Cernich sexually abused children in both Jacksonville and Springfield.

Some may not be surprised by Bishop Ryan’s inaction in the face of claimed child sex abuse because, like Cernich, he too is a substantiated child sex abuser. In 1995, the diocese received reports that Bishop Ryan sexually abused two children in 1985 and 1986, shortly after being named Bishop of Springfield. In 1998, there were calls for Bishop Ryan’s removal when a Catholic group within the diocese accused him of protecting abusive priests.  A year later, in 1999, the disgraced bishop resigned his leadership of the diocese. In 2002, he was accused of soliciting a 15-year-old Springfield boy for sex back in 1984—the same year he was named bishop. Because of a perceived conflict of interest, the Diocese of Springfield referred that allegation to the Diocese of Peoria to investigate. A review board in Peoria concluded Bishop Ryan should no longer function publicly due to the potential for “spiritual harm to the faithful.”

In 2006, a “Special Panel on Clergy Misconduct,” commissioned by the then bishop of the diocese, concluded that “Bishop Daniel Ryan engaged in improper sexual conduct and used his office to conceal his activities. The investigation found a culture of secrecy fostered under Bishop Ryan’s leadership which discouraged faithful priests from coming forward with information about misconduct.” While the Special Panel disclaimed any investigation or conclusions relating to Bishop Ryan and child sex abuse, it nonetheless added additional stain to the bishop’s legacy as the diocese’s leader. And in 2019, the Diocese of Joliet too confirmed Ryan as a substantiated child sex abuser. Details surrounding Bishop Ryan’s child sex abuse acts are contained elsewhere in this report, in a narrative relating to him.

Bishops O’Connor, McNicholas, and Ryan led the Diocese of Springfield for 50 years—50 years of turning their backs on children who were sexually abused by clerics in the diocese. Warning bells sounded, and time and time again these men ignored the alarms. As a result, children of the diocese suffered through decades of child sex abuse, the impact of which continues to this day.

The Diocese of Springfield’s Leadership today regarding Child Sex Abuse by Clerics

Soon after the Illinois Attorney General released the preliminary findings of this investigation in December 2018, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, the then and current bishop of the Diocese of Springfield, released a press statement. In his December 19, 2018 statement, Bishop Paprocki wrote that “[r]eviewing these past cases [of child sex abuse] has also reminded us that many years ago people didn’t publicly discuss the kind of salacious allegations documented in these files.” Bishop Paprocki continued—“A virtuous intent to protect the faithful from scandal unfortunately prevented the transparency and awareness that has helped us confront this problem more directly over the past fifteen years.” In one sentence, Bishop Paprocki both credited the inaction of Bishops O’Connor, McNicholas, and Ryan (inaction that left scores of children incalculably wounded from child sex abuse) as having been done with “virtuous intent” and proclaimed the diocese’s current practices relating to child sex abuse by clerics to be “transparent and aware.”

Considering that Bishop Paprocki believes the leadership of his predecessors on the subject of child sex abuse by clerics as having a “virtuous intent,” one may wonder what qualifies as “transparent and aware” in the bishop’s eyes. On that point, prior to the Attorney General’s investigation, the Diocese of Springfield did not publicly disclose a list of clerics who ministered within the diocese and who had been substantiated as child sex abusers. The diocese placed such a list on a webpage only after being pushed to do so by the Attorney General—it was the last diocese in Illinois to take the measure.

And when its list of substantiated child sex abusers was finally placed online in November 2018, the list was not easily accessible on the diocese’s homepage—where one would expect to find it—but instead on a page found at Thus, a person interested in finding such information was required to web-sleuth, and stumble upon, where they would be ironically told that the information presented was “a channel for dialog and transparency.”  Attorney General investigators immediately pointed out to diocese leaders the failings of such a hide and seek exercise in “transparency,” but it was not until September 2022 that Bishop Paprocki finally authorized the diocese’s homepage to include a link to a “List of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.”

And even now, the diocese’s list of substantiated child sex abusers does not include each cleric’s parish assignments—the only Illinois diocese to omit such vital information for diocesan clerics. In 2019, the diocese explained its practice of excluding assignments as seeking “to avoid traumatizing parish communities that had no clue a priest assigned to their parish may have harmed children, and we do not want to retraumatize communities where it was known that the priest was an abuser.” In other words, if parishioners do not know a child sex abuser ministered at their parish, assignment information is withheld in order to protect them, and if they do know a child sex abuser ministered at their parish, assignment information is withheld in order to protect them. Such logic is far from the “transparency” Bishop Paprocki claims to promote. As for “awareness,” survivors of child sex abuse that Attorney General investigators have spoken with question Bishop Paprocki’s concern for, and understanding of, survivor healing.

“Christopher” is a survivor of child sex abuse at the hands of Father Joseph Cullen O’Brien. The facts relating to the abuse are detailed elsewhere in this report, in a narrative relating to O’Brien. Relevant here is Christopher’s experience with Bishop Paprocki. In December 2015, he wrote a heart-wrenching letter to the bishop, describing the abuse he endured. Christopher also questioned the lack of information on the diocese’s website relating to child sex abuse by clerics. He questioned why there was “nothing” on the website concerning the history of abuse within the diocese. Christopher continued his plea to Bishop Paprocki—“There is nothing on the Springfield, IL diocese website…indicating anything has ever happened in this diocese. WHY?” The diocese’s victims assistance coordinator, rather than Bishop Paprocki, responded to Christopher’s letter, which was “like a nail in the coffin,” Christopher says today.

Another survivor also questions Bishop Paprocki’s awareness regarding survivor trauma. “Abby” is a survivor of child sex abuse by a cleric in the Diocese of Springfield, Father Louis Shea. The facts relating to the abuse are detailed elsewhere in this report, in a narrative relating to Shea. The emphasis here is on Abby’s experience with Bishop Paprocki. Over a course of months in 2019, Abby met with the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator, its review board, and Bishop Paprocki, all in an effort to have the diocese place Shea on the diocese’s list of substantiated child sex abusers. Through it all, Abby was left with the impression that the diocese and Bishop Paprocki prioritized their own interests over supporting survivors, and demonstrated a failure to truly listen and understand what survivors need along their path to healing. As Abby put it, “there was a stubborn refusal to act for 17 years, and not until forced to do so by the Attorney General.” And when she met with Bishop Paprocki, he questioned Abby’s faith and told her that he is “the shepherd of souls.” The meeting left Abby shaking her head in amazement. Reflecting on it all, Abby simply says that “much work remains in order for the Diocese of Springfield and Bishop Paprocki to understand the needs of survivor healing.”

Inner dome of the State of Illinois Capitol Building in Springfield, IllinoisInner dome of the State of Illinois Capitol Building - Springfield, Illinois


Whether Christopher and Abby’s experiences with Bishop Paprocki demonstrate how the bishop treats survivors of child sex abuse cannot be said. What can be said is that as things stand, the Diocese of Springfield has yet to reconcile itself with its past. To do that, the diocese must commit to transparency and survivor healing through deeds, listening to survivors and their pleas for trauma-informed responses. The diocese must also openly acknowledge that turning its back for half a century on the needs of children suffering sex abuse at the hands of its clerics was in no way “virtuous.”


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Scroll of Abusive Clerics/Brothers | Diocese of Springfield



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.*