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Survivor Narratives

Jeffrey Salwach

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.

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.

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.

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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.*