Jerome B. Ratermann
“It’s our little secret,” Father Jerome Ratermann told his young victim. “But it’s okay because I’m your priest.” “Daniel” reached out to the Attorney General’s investigators to share details of the sexual abuse he endured at Ratermann’s hands.
Daniel grew up believing “priests are like family; they have your best interest at heart.” That’s what he was taught as a boy attending Saints Peter and Paul in Waterloo, where Ratermann was assigned from 1972 through 1985. And that is why Daniel (like so many others) did not reveal the abuse he suffered until years later—after decades-old memories began to resurface and “weird thoughts and dreams started to come.”
“I felt special being an altar server,” Daniel told the Attorney General’s investigators. Every summer, Ratermann would take the altar servers for weekends at his houseboat on Crab Orchard Lake in Williamson County. Ratermann used these trips as an excuse to get the boys alone—and his houseboat is where the worst abuse occurred. It started with touching and fondling and ultimately led to oral and anal sex.
But Daniel wasn’t safe from Ratermann even away from his houseboat. The abuse extended into the church itself. Ratermann would often kiss and fondle Daniel at Saints Peter and Paul while the boy was changing into his altar robes before mass.
When the memories returned, Daniel reached out to the Diocese of Belleville for help. The diocese agreed to pay for therapy, which Daniel found helpful. Six months in, however, Daniel contacted an attorney, who wrote the diocese on his behalf. The diocese lashed out and refused to pay for further treatment.
At times, Daniel has found himself on the brink of suicide. “You understand rationally that it wasn’t your fault,” he says, “but I still have those guilt issues.” He credits his incredible family relationships and is thankful they understood what he was going through and supported him throughout. “Everyone has bad days,” Daniel explains, “but most people’s reaction when going through a hard time isn’t ‘let’s just end this shit because I’m tired of it.’ It’s a never-ending battle every day. And when it’s a bad day, I have to consciously talk myself down from doing something stupid.”
Daniel believes he “was not the only one” Ratermann sexually abused. He’s right. The Attorney General’s investigation of diocesan files confirmed at least six other survivors alleged Ratermann abused them. And while the diocese claims it didn’t learn about Ratermann’s sexual abuse of young boys until 1986, its own documents reveal it was first notified almost two decades earlier.
According to Ratermann’s own summary of events, “[i]n the summer of 1968 allegations were made to [the] Bishop of Belleville, about my sexual misconduct with teenagers.” Ratermann continued: “The Bishop sent me on a leave of absence from my assignment as principal of Mater Dei High School in Breese, Illinois. The case was resolved by the Bishop, the parents, and the State’s Attorney. No one pressed charges. Later I was assigned to parish ministry.”
In 1986, an additional allegation surfaced. But even when faced with another allegation, the diocese “concluded that to leave Father in his ministry would not threaten harm to anyone because of sexual misconduct on his part.” Ratermann’s response to the charge was “that he had no memory of the abuse, but [he] said it could have happened. He could not deny it.” Despite this, “[i]t was determined that Father Ratermann could continue to serve as a parish priest.” So he was given a new parish assignment at Blessed Sacrament in Belleville. It was only in 1993, after “allegations of a similar nature” came to light, that the diocese felt the need to “relieve Father of all of his pastoral duties.” Ratermann has not ministered since.
As for Daniel, he believes the “Catholic church lied about [the abuse] and covered it up. I hold the church just as responsible for the cover up.” But Daniel is pleased Ratermann was finally placed on the diocese’s public list of child sex abusers in October 2018. What took so long? The diocese took action only after the Attorney General’s investigators urged it to disclose those priests credibly accused of child sex abuse.
Today, as a result of the Attorney General’s investigation, the Diocese of Belleville’s list of substantiated abusers has more than doubled from the original 17 names. It now includes 42 clerics who the church concedes ministered in, or had a meaningful connection with, the Diocese of Belleville and have “credible allegations [against them] that they engaged in the sexual abuse of minors or serious sexual misconduct with adults.”