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Survivor Narratives

Aloysius Piorkowski

What does it mean when a priest is said to be suffering “some rather serious difficulties”? No one doubts this was an apt, if cryptic, description of Father Aloysius Piorkowski in the summer of 1962. He was born in the early twentieth century in Poland, where he was also ordained, and at some point made his way to the Archdiocese of Chicago, where he served as an assistant pastor at Saint Pancratius in the city’s Brighton Park neighborhood. He left Chicago in 1947 for the Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska, and in 1959 he arrived at Boys Town, a church facility serving orphans and “troubled youths” located in the neighboring Archdiocese of Omaha. He remained there until the spring of 1962, when he was accused of sexually abusing a child and dismissed for “inappropriate conduct.” The Diocese of Lincoln refused to take him back.

There is a long history of church officials cloaking child sex abuse in euphemisms, which makes it difficult to determine—decades after the fact—exactly what happened next.

There is a long history of church officials cloaking child sex abuse in euphemisms, which makes it difficult to determine—decades after the fact—exactly what happened next. Apparently, Piorkowski preferred to return to Chicago, so he asked a colleague to pitch the idea to the archdiocese’s vicar general. The colleague wrote a letter in May 1962 “vouch[ing]” for Piorkowski’s “integrity” and chalking up his departure from Boys Town to a “clash of personalities” with the executive director. Piorkowski’s only problem, his colleague concluded, “is he seems to be continually on the move.”

Meanwhile, Bishop James Casey of the Diocese of Lincoln was making his own pitch to get Piorkowski off his hands. A June 1962 letter to Bishop Loras Lane of the Diocese of Rockford references an earlier discussion about Piorkowski, whom Bishop Casey describes as a priest with “some rather serious difficulties.” Bishop Casey’s letter promises he’ll have more to say to Bishop Lane about Piorkowski when the two men gather later that month for a conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

What Bishop Casey said at that conference is lost to history. The surviving records contain only unsatisfactory clues. The archdiocese’s vicar general was in Madison too and had his own chance to talk to Bishop Casey; when he returned to Chicago, he penned a letter to Piorkowski’s colleague announcing that his conversation with the Lincoln bishop had turned him away from the idea of taking in the troubled priest. He didn’t explain why.

As for Bishop Lane in Rockford, the documents merely show he agreed to interview Piorkowski later that summer—and ultimately allowed him to take refuge in the diocese. That was a mistake. Piorkowski was assigned as a chaplain to Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin but wasted little time before again abusing a boy—a prior victim from Omaha whose parents allowed him to visit Piorkowski in Illinois, encouraged no doubt by the church’s ongoing endorsement.

What did Bishop Lane know about Piorkowski when he made this fateful decision? No one can say with certainty. Bishop Casey’s reference to Piorkowski’s “serious difficulties” seems glaringly obvious in hindsight. So too the concession by Piorkowski’s colleague that he was “continually on the move.” Those phrases stand out to us today because we know church officials once viewed child sex abuse as literally unspeakable—communicating about it in code rather than referring to it by name. We also know Piorkowski was in fact forced out of Boys Town for sexually abusing a child—then sexually abused a child soon after fleeing to the Diocese of Rockford. And it is telling that, whatever Bishop Casey said to the archdiocese’s vicar general in Madison, it put him off Piorkowski altogether.

But euphemisms are intentionally evasive; they are by nature imprecise. “Serious difficulties” could also refer to alcoholism or mental illness or even a loss of faith—and any of these ailments might cause a priest to be “continually on the move.” What’s more, not everyone was in on the secret. Piorkowski’s colleague falsely told the archdiocese Piorkowski left Boys Town because of a personality clash; either the colleague didn’t know the truth or didn’t want the vicar general to find it out.

Sixty years since, we can only guess at what Bishop Casey wanted Bishop Lane to understand by the phrase “serious difficulties”—or what Bishop Lane actually understood it to mean. The men have died. The church’s records are silent. A mystery is all that remains.

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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.*