In 2003, “Brandon” reported to the Franciscan Friars religious order that Father Jeffrey Salwach and another priest sexually abused him as a child. The abuse occurred at Saint Jude in New Lenox in the mid-1970s; it began when Brandon was 9 years old and lasted until he was 13. At the time, Salwach was a Franciscan brother but was not yet ordained a priest.
Brandon sued Salwach, the Franciscans, and the Diocese of Joliet in June 2004. In response, the Franciscans launched an investigation and sent Salwach to the Isaac Ray Forensic Group to be “evaluated for an assessment of possible deviant sexual interest and dangerousness.” Rather than seeking justice, however, the Franciscans sought to garner evidence of Salwach’s innocence, obfuscate any suggestion of his guilt, and bury the truth.
Isaac Ray provided the Franciscans with a report summarizing its evaluation of Salwach:
Father Salwach denied any form of inappropriate sexual contact with minors at the beginning of his evaluation at the Isaac Ray Forensic Group. However, after he was confronted with the results of a polygraph test, he admitted to fondling a number of minors while he was a teacher in the 1970s, including his accuser. . . . Father Salwach’s denial of being sexually aroused while performing these inappropriate acts must be viewed with skepticism. Father Salwach has demonstrated behaviors in the past consistent with a Paraphilic disorder (with pedophile interests).
The Franciscans’ review board received this evaluation in October 2005. But even though Salwach had admitted to sexually abusing Brandon and other children while ministering as a Franciscan brother, the board insisted “there is no reason to suspect Jeffrey to be a risk for offending minors.” Apparently, Salwach’s confession to child sex abuse was insufficient for the board to consider him a danger to children. With respect to Brandon’s lawsuit, the board noted in its minutes that it was “without substantiation.” But the court and Brandon did not have the Isaac Ray evaluation in which Salwach confessed to abusing Brandon. To the Franciscans, all that mattered was public evidence of guilt; appearances seemed to be more important than truth.
Worse, the Franciscans appear to have gone looking for excuses to discredit Brandon. They interviewed his sister around February 2006. According to a contemporaneous memo, she told them that Brandon “tends to lie” and “she feels that he may be lying” about Salwach’s abuse. Her assessment was based merely on her view of Brandon’s “questionable character,” “her intuition,” and her distrust of repressed memories. The Franciscans seized on this flimsy speculation. A March 2006 internal memo lauds Brandon’s sister as “a credible person” who “definitely came across as sincere and a woman of integrity.” Nevertheless, the Franciscans ultimately settled Brandon’s lawsuit.
The Franciscans dismissed Salwach from the order in April 2016—not because he had confessed to sexually abusing multiple children, but rather because he twice refused to return to the Franciscans’ “religious house” when ordered to do so. Salwach is no longer a Franciscan, but he is still a Catholic priest.
Despite Salwach’s clear confession, the Franciscans continue to maintain he did not abuse Brandon. A July 2019 email from the Franciscans’ provincial vicar to the Diocese of Joliet acknowledges the Isaac Ray report and yet, in what appears to be willful denial, nevertheless insists that Salwach “appears to have made no admission of guilt.” And because the Franciscans refuse to acknowledge the reality of Brandon’s child sex abuse allegation, the diocese also refuses to add Salwach to its public list of credibly accused priests due to its policy of ignoring all allegations against religious order priests until they are substantiated by the order itself.
When Brandon filed suit in 2004, his attorney explained how Salwach’s abuse had derailed Brandon’s life: “This is another situation where a man, now an adult, has largely had his life ruined by a priest. He's undergone a very unpleasant divorce. He’s become estranged from his wife and children. He spent years, including much of his teenage years, in a chemical and alcoholic fog.” It is a shame that the Franciscans chose to revictimize Brandon after he came forward rather than make amends for what their brother had done.