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Survivor Narratives

John Slown

The Diocese of Joliet’s handling of Father John Slown is the archetypal cover up of child sex abuse in the Catholic church. The diocese learned on at least six occasions that Slown had sexually abused multiple children in several parishes. But the diocese did not punish Slown or seriously investigate the allegations against him. And there is no indication the diocese ever informed law enforcement about Slown’s growing list of victims. Instead, the diocese facilitated Slown’s abuse. On multiple occasions, it responded to reports of Slown’s crimes by sending him for brief stints in treatment centers—indulging his cover story that he simply needed help with being a “work-aholic” before allowing him to return to parish ministry.

In 1971, Slown served as an associate pastor at Saint Scholastica in Woodridge. That year, a priest in New Jersey informed the diocese of his “grave” belief that Slown had sexually abused all five boys in a local family that once lived in the diocese and still received visits from Slown. The diocese’s response was not to report Slown to the police or bar him from ever functioning as a priest. Instead, the diocese told Slown to refrain from visiting the family and seek counseling. It sent him on a “spiritual retreat” to a famed monastery in Kentucky. According to notes by Bishop Romeo Blanchette on a meeting with Slown in April 1972, the bishop told Slown he was not being “black-balled” and that he expected Slown “to continue to perform satisfactorily.” Later that year, the bishop appointed Slown as pastor of Saint Mary Magdalene in Joliet.

While Slown was at Saint Mary Magdalene, his associate pastor—Father William Virtue, who himself was later credibly accused of child sex abuse—informed Bishop Blanchette that Slown “cannot keep his hands off young men and boys whenever they are present.” Virtue also told Blanchette in 1976 that teenagers in the parish had named two boys “who were supposedly the objects of a sexual advance by Fr. Slown.” A housekeeper at the rectory provided a sworn affidavit about Slown’s abuse in 1976. Slown somehow found out and confronted the housekeeper at her home, reciting her testimony “almost word by word.”

Although Bishop Blanchette apologized to the housekeeper, Slown remained pastor at Saint Mary Magdalene until September 1977. It was then that the bishop learned a family had reported multiple incidents of sexual abuse by Slown. The bishop was told “many in the parish, especially the young, know of [Slown’s] sexual escapades—and have really had their faith hurt.” That same day, Slown submitted his resignation as pastor, which Bishop Blanchette accepted. Yet even then, the bishop appointed Slown “temporary administrator” at Saint Mary Magdalene for several weeks and ordered he be sent a $400 monthly check “from the Clergy Retirement Fund for disabled priests.” A few months later, Slown told Bishop Blanchette he had discerned his “main problem”: “I am a work-aholic.” His resignation, Slown said, was “a most prophetic move,” because he could now “relax and put things into correct order”—and with “God’s help, the doctor’s guidance, and my intellect and will power, the situation will be solved.”

The situation was not solved. Bishop Blanchette wrote Slown in April 1978 asking for his doctor’s thoughts “regarding the question of a future assignment.” Three months later, Blanchette appointed Slown pastor at Saint Joseph in Bradley. Just before he was supposed to start, Slown’s former parishioner told the diocese he had sexually abused her 13 year old son a decade earlier. Nonetheless, Slown was permitted to become pastor at Saint Joseph the following month.

By February 1980, the diocese was learning Slown’s self-diagnosis as a “work-aholic” did not repair his pattern of serial abuse. An associate pastor told the diocese that Slown had abused a child in the sacristy both before and after a recent mass. Slown responded that “those people who informed you about me might be too close to the situation and thus not able to make a true, valid, and objective critic of me” and that “there are so many parishioners who are saying how good I look and act.” A few months later, however, Slown entered a “psychotheological program” in California. At the time, the diocese’s auxiliary bishop told Slown he was “most optimistic about your future and its peace & success.”

Slown’s “psychotheological” treatment was brief, reflecting the wash-and-repeat cycle the diocese continued to employ against child sex abuse allegations. In May 1981, Bishop Joseph Imesch assigned Slown to Divine Savior in Downers Grove, relaying his “happiness in having you become active once more in the diocese.” Less than a year later, the bishop made Slown pastor at Saint Irene in Warrenville.

In June 1983, the bishop received a letter from a parishioner reporting that Slown had been talking with her friend’s son and another boy outside church when Slown “grabbed the boys[’] privates.” Bishop Imesch responded by asking the parishioner if he could share her letter with Slown himself, despite Slown’s history of confronting his accusers. The bishop insisted “it is important that we be willing to forgive one another[,] even our leaders.”

Yet even here, after myriad credible allegations of abuse, Bishop Imesch promised to help Slown find another assignment.

Following this incident, Bishop Imesch directed Slown to meet regularly with a therapist and staff at a religious education institute. The bishop assured Slown of his support so long as the troubled priest was “really making an effort to retain your sobriety.” There was no mention of the past decade of credible sexual abuse allegations.

In August 1983, a full two months after receiving the report of Slown assaulting children in broad daylight, Bishop Imesch asked him to resign as a pastor of Saint Irene. The bishop opined in a memo that “[w]hat John basically needs is someone to confide in, who will also confront him when he feels that the drinking is going on.” Not content to let Slown simply resign, Bishop Imesch gave him yet another assignment eight days after accepting his resignation, this time as associate pastor at Christ the King in Lombard. “I am hopeful and somewhat optimistic that the pressures of ministry will be reduced for him as an associate,” the bishop wrote in September 1983.

But Slown returned to abusing children in his first month in his new position. He reached into the pants of multiple boys at a Halloween party—in full view of several parents. Although Slown’s file indicates he was “On Sick Leave” starting November 1, Slown was reportedly convicted of sexually assaulting a child later that year. It is unclear whether he spent time in prison.

By December 1983, Slown had enrolled in a treatment program in Saint Louis, followed by another treatment program in New Mexico in 1984. In mid-1985, Bishop Imesch told Slown that parents in the diocese had “threatened to pursue the matter” if Slown ever returned. “Aside from that,” the bishop wrote, “I have not heard anything from them, and I am hoping that I will not.” Yet even here, after myriad credible allegations of abuse, Bishop Imesch promised to help Sloan find another assignment.

Somehow, Slown continued to find work as a priest. In November 1985, he was assigned to serve as an associate pastor in the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Slown’s file is unclear as to whether Bishop Imesch told the Santa Fe archbishop about Slown’s history of sexual abuse before he was assigned there. Either way, it appears Slown was dismissed from Santa Fe within a year of his arrival. Bishop Imesch finally suspended Slown’s priestly faculties after determining he had lied about this and was unable to “maintain sobriety.” Despite all that had occurred, Bishop Imesch expressed his “hope” to Slown that another bishop would provide Slown “an opportunity to minister.”

The Diocese of Joliet began receiving additional allegations of Slown’s sexual abuse of children in 2002. Even at this late date, Bishop Imesch lied about his own knowledge of Slown’s criminal history. He told one victim that “[e]verything I heard was strictly rumor” and that he did “not know names of any young people who were involved with Father Slown.” Other allegations followed, along with lawsuits. The count of Slown’s survivors in the diocese’s files numbers over 20.

As these allegations continued to arrive, Slown wrote the diocese in 2007 asking for a pension and annual benefits. He said he had “20 years of continuous sobriety” and thus “the problems” for which he “was removed from the ministry” had been “resolved.” Slown’s request was granted. Newly installed Bishop Peter Sartain wrote Slown an upbeat letter bringing him the good news. Slown’s file contains no indication of how much the diocese paid out to his survivors or whether it ever reported his obvious and frequent sexual abuse of children to law enforcement.

See details for John C. Slown

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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.*