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Survivor Narratives

Daniel L. Ryan

Bishop Daniel Ryan was an important man. As the head of the Diocese of Springfield from 1984 to 1999, he was charged with governing tens of thousands of Catholics in central Illinois—counting among his responsibilities teaching doctrine, representing the church, and sanctifying the world. What “Scott” remembers, however, is the way Ryan smelled. “Like old stink and alcohol,” he told the Attorney General’s investigators. Many decades have passed since Ryan raped Scott repeatedly in the basement of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. “But I can still smell him right now,” Scott says.

Many decades have passed since Ryan raped Scott repeatedly in the basement of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. “But I can still smell him right now,” Scott says.

Ryan was not merely the bishop of Springfield; he was also a local boy made good. He moved to the city as a child and graduated from Cathedral Boys High School in the late 1940s. But it was up north, in the recently established Diocese of Joliet, where he got his start as a priest in 1956. And once ordained, he rose quickly through the diocese’s ranks—serving in short succession as Joliet’s notary, actuary, assistant chancellor, chancellor, vicar general, and, finally, auxiliary bishop. So when Springfield’s Bishop Joseph McNicholas died unexpectedly in the spring of 1983, it was no surprise Joliet’s shining star was tapped to fill those shoes. Ryan’s homecoming was made official in January 1984 when he was installed as Springfield’s bishop at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception—the same church complex where he would later rape Scott.

“You are serving God by doing this,” Ryan insisted. But he also warned Scott, “Don’t tell your parents or else something bad will happen to them.”

Ryan began to abuse Scott soon after arriving in Springfield. The boy was about 11 years old and spent a lot of time at the cathedral. It was where his family attended church and he was an altar server; it was also where he was enrolled in the fifth grade. One day, Scott served mass with Ryan. When they were done, the bishop asked the boy to come with him to the cathedral basement. “I need you to help me with something,” Ryan explained.

“It’s hard to remember what the basement looked like,” Scott reflects today. He knows it “felt bad” down there—like “a dark place where bad things happened.” On that terrible day in 1984, Ryan began to lick Scott’s face and made the boy fondle the bishop’s penis. Then, he forced anal sex on the child. “This will only hurt for a second,” Ryan tried to assure him.

This was not the only time Ryan sexually abused Scott. It happened about eight times over the course of a few years. It always took place in the cathedral basement—and Ryan always smelled of body odor and booze. Each time, the bishop issued specific instructions to the boy. “Put it in your mouth.” “Bend over.” “You are serving God by doing this,” Ryan insisted. But he also warned Scott, “Don’t tell your parents or else something bad will happen to them.”

He was accused of sexually abusing at least two children in January 1995. The diocese apparently did nothing—and for one of those survivors, the abuse continued another four years.

Scott didn’t know it at the time, but he was not Ryan’s only victim. Years later, in 2019, the Diocese of Joliet confirmed Ryan as a substantiated child sex abuser. And in 2002, Ryan was accused of soliciting a 15 year old Springfield boy for sex in 1984—the same year he returned to the city and began abusing Scott. The boy said the bishop saw him walking one night and offered a ride. They wound up in the cathedral rectory, where Ryan said he would pay the boy $50 to strip naked and let the bishop massage him with baby oil. During the massage, Ryan tried to have sex with the child, but the boy resisted and escaped. Because of a perceived conflict of interest, the Diocese of Springfield referred this allegation to the Diocese of Peoria, which concluded in 2002 that Ryan should no longer function publicly due to the potential for “spiritual harm to the faithful.” No mention was made in the Diocese of Peoria’s findings of harm to children.

By the time the Diocese of Peoria made its 2002 determination that Ryan should no longer function in public ministry, it was too late. Ryan had retired as Springfield’s bishop three years earlier in 1999. His final years at the diocese’s helm were turbulent. He was accused of sexually abusing at least two children in January 1995. The diocese apparently did nothing—and for one of those survivors, the abuse continued another four years.

As for Scott, it took about three decades until he felt comfortable talking to anyone about Ryan’s abusing him in the mid-1980s. He has experienced suicidal thoughts and is now in therapy. Ryan was never prosecuted. The powerful bishop from Springfield died in 2015 without facing justice for what he did to Scott and other young boys.

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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.*