John C. Anderson
When the lawn at Saint Edward in Chillicothe needed to be mowed, Father John Anderson knew just whom to ask—the altar servers. But for at least two young children, an innocent request to do yard work turned into sleepovers at the rectory—and those sleepovers turned into repeated sexual abuse at the hands of a predator priest. These survivors spoke to the Attorney General’s investigators about their experiences—and their disappointment with the Diocese of Peoria’s responses. Both men carry the memories of Anderson’s abuse with them to this day.
“Adam” was 8 years old when his family moved to Chillicothe in the late 1970s. He enrolled in the third grade at Saint Edward, where Anderson was pastor. That’s when he began spending evenings at the rectory. While Adam slept, Anderson would sneak in and rub the child’s penis over his clothes. Adam began mowing the lawn at Saint Edward—and also at Anderson’s property west of town, where the priest’s mother lived. But as the work progressed, so did the abuse. On overnights, at the rectory and now at his mother’s home too, Anderson would enter Adam’s room, reach into his pants, and fondle him. Eventually, Anderson would strip fully naked and masturbate while lying next to Adam in his bed. The abuse went on for three or four years; Adam estimates Anderson abused him 30 to 45 times. He believes it stopped only because he was getting older.
Adam still feels the effects of Anderson’s abuse. “He’s messed up my life,” Adam explains. “This truly ruined a young kid’s mind. And it didn’t just ruin my childhood. It also ruined my manhood as I got older.” Adam turned to the Diocese of Peoria for help. “I started drinking a lot, and I think my emotions were getting to me because I had done this for so long. I called the diocese to let it all out.” The diocese told Adam it knew Anderson had abused young boys like him—and it suggested he forgive the predator priest. “When I heard that, I was kind of dumbfounded,” Adam says. Even today, the memories keep him from going back to the town where he grew up. “I kept it bottled up,” he explains. “I was more ashamed and embarrassed. That’s why I don’t go back to Chillicothe anymore. I feel like their eyes are looking at me.”
"This truly ruined a young kid's mind. And it didn't just ruin my childhood. It also ruined my manhood as I got older."
“Paul” moved to Chillicothe in 1978 after his parents divorced. Like Adam, he became an altar server at Saint Edward—and Anderson also asked Paul to mow the parish’s lawn and, later, to spend some time with Anderson’s mother on the weekends to make some extra money. Again, this led to sleepovers. Paul always slept on the couch; while he slept, Anderson would enter the room, stick his hand down Paul’s pants, and start masturbating him. The abuse went on like that for two or three years. Finally, one night at the rectory, Paul ran out the front door after Anderson tried to abuse him again. He decided to move back to Quincy, where his father still lived, to get away from Anderson. About a year later, Anderson traveled to Quincy for the weekend with two other boys. Paul met up with them briefly. “I think he was checking up on me to see if I had told anyone or would say anything,” Paul recalls. “He’d ask, ‘How are you? Are you alright? Have you talked to anyone about the stuff we talked about before?’” Paul told the priest he hadn’t. “Who’s going to believe me?” he said.
"Anderson was a repeat offender; I was called a liar. When you get told that, you basically give up. If the bishop won't believe me, who will?"
In 1993, Paul disclosed the abuse to his counselor, who reported it to the diocese. This led to a phone call between Paul and Bishop John Myers. “I was told the whole time on that phone call that I was lying, that Anderson would never do that, that he denied it. But I came to find out he was doing it to one of my best friends,” Paul remembers. “Anderson was a repeat offender; I was called a liar. When you get told that, you basically give up. If the bishop won’t believe me, who will?”
A Peoria bishop eventually did acknowledge that Paul had been abused by Anderson—but not Bishop Myers. In a 2002 letter, Bishop Daniel Jenky wrote to Paul’s mother:
First of all, allow me to apologize for the abuse your son [Paul] experienced from John Anderson. There is no way I could ever adequately express my deep sorrow and great shame that he or anybody else was ever victimized by a priest.
In an apparent attempt to justify the delay in acknowledging Anderson’s abuse of Paul, Bishop Jenky painted Anderson as a master of deception: “As you have personally experienced, a perpetrator is often highly skilled in hiding his crimes and cleverly manipulating both his friends and his colleagues.” In October 2018, after the Attorney General’s investigation began, the Diocese of Peoria reported the allegations against Anderson by Paul, Adam, and other survivors to the local state’s attorney—more than 16 years after Bishop Jenky’s letter to Paul’s mother.
Paul wants to make sure no one else experiences what he did. “I sure don’t want anyone to have to go through that, to have all your beliefs and everything you’ve been told in your life to be flushed down the drain.” He will never forget his 1993 phone call with Bishop Myers: “There was a dangerous man walking among them. And the diocese didn’t do a dang thing about it. They protected him.”