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Survivor Narratives

George H. Hiland

“Peter” recalls his mother and grandmother loved that Father George Hiland took an interest in him. “‘Aren’t we going to get him something for Christmas?’ my mother asked, ‘We have to give him something.’ We ended up giving him house slippers.” It all made Peter feel like he was trapped—like he had nowhere to turn. There was no one he could tell that Hiland was sexually abusing him. Today, he remembers it vividly—the abuse, where it took place, and how Hiland made him feel. “I don’t really hate anyone,” he says. “But I really started hating him.”

The abuse started in the mid-1960s when Peter was in the seventh grade. He was an altar server at Saint Stephen in Streator, where he also attended school; his father had died when he was just 10 years old. Hiland approached Peter and asked if he would be afraid to go out with him. Peter said no, so Hiland took him to a bonfire. A short time later, they went for a drive. Hiland let Peter sit in his lap and hold the steering wheel. Then he began fondling Peter; eventually, he pulled down the young boy’s pants. Later, Hiland would perform oral sex on Peter and then force Peter to reciprocate. “I hated it,” Peter says. “But I didn’t know who to talk to.”

“We had sex everywhere,” Peter remembers—the church choir, the school cafeteria, the underground tunnel between the school and church, even on his teacher’s desk. The summer before eighth grade, Hiland took Peter to the woods near a local farm about twice a week. He forced the boy to strip naked; then he sprayed him from head to toe with mosquito repellent and had sex with him. But the worst was when Hiland had sex with Peter in the cemetery. “All I could think was that my father was buried there.”

Hiland made sure to “reward” Peter after each instance of abuse. “Every time we had sex, he would take me to Top Save,” Peter recalls. “I went in and would buy these plastic Aurora monster models and put them together. He gave me the money, and he would sit in the car while I would go in. I had every single model they came out with.”

“We had sex everywhere,” Peter remembers—the church choir, the school cafeteria, the underground tunnel between the school and church, even on his teacher’s desk.

The abuse finally stopped when Peter graduated from the eighth grade. He was relieved he would never have to see Hiland again once he started high school in the fall. That summer, he got a job at a root beer stand just to get away from the priest.

The Diocese of Peoria did not publicly acknowledge Hiland as having been credibly accused of child sex abuse until 2018—a few months after the Attorney General began investigating. Yet the diocese had known Hiland was a predator priest for 25 years. A 1993 memo describes Hiland’s abuse of one child in Streator in the 1970s and his admission to abusing a second. A 1994 letter from Bishop John Myers to Hiland acknowledges both men’s “sadness at the circumstances which have prompted you to submit your resignation as the Pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish, Dwight, and to seek retirement status in the diocese.” Bishop Myers also mentioned Hiland’s “unresolved issues which should be dealt with before you can effectively be involved in any priestly ministry” and the “serious recommendation for counseling and therapy.” Yet the bishop also made sure to praise 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.”

Yet the diocese had known Hiland was a predator priest for 25 years.

The diocese chose not to report Hiland’s abuse to law enforcement at the time of the incident, waiting to do so until 2018, after the Attorney General began investigating. A 1993 document helps to explain why. A church official wrote that such cases “should be managed in a way that restricts it to counseling at a moderate fee for a reasonable amount of time. The difficulty with counseling is that it can reinforce the desire to sue for compensation in large amounts. But this is a risk the priest and diocese has to take to fulfill our own policies.” In other words, the diocese was more concerned for its own bottom line than achieving justice for survivors.

The diocese apparently misplaced the 1993 memo describing Hiland’s abuse of one boy and admission to abusing another. It did not rediscover the damning documents until October 2018. This is yet another instance of the diocese’s shoddy recordkeeping practices, which for far too long deprived child sex abuse survivors of the healing that comes with seeing their abusers publicly named.

Today, Peter is sharing his experience to prevent others from living through what he did. “I just don’t want somebody else to have to go through this. It’s awful. And it seemed like all [Hiland] really cared about was controlling everything. He knew my father died. He used every little advantage he could,” Peter explains. “I’m pretty sure it’s still going on. I don’t really know how to stop all of this. But it’s very damaging. I’m very upbeat, but I keep a lot of stuff in.”

In other words, the diocese was more concerned for its own bottom line than achieving justice for survivors.

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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.*