Skip to Content

Survivor Narratives

Kenneth J. Roberts

Not just any priest puts pen to paper to create a book chronicling what led him to the priesthood. But Father Ken Roberts was not just any priest. He wrote about his transition from a jet-setting lifestyle to the priesthood in a 1975 autobiography titled Playboy to Priest. Although Roberts was a priest of the Diocese of Dallas in Texas, his celebrity status and role as retreat master gave him access to children across the nation—including central Illinois. One of those children was “William,” a survivor of Roberts’ abuse whose revictimization by the Diocese of Peoria is just as heartbreaking as the disgraced priest’s crimes.

The abuse by Roberts took place in the 1980s, but what haunts William today is the aftermath. “This was trust-shattering, spiritually disillusioning revictimization at the merciless, self-preserving hands of the Diocese of Peoria,” he says. At the time of the abuse, William was a boy in fifth or sixth grade. He attended a retreat called Emmaus Days at Saint Bede Abbey in Peru. Roberts was a retreat leader chosen by the Diocese of Peoria; the abbey liaison, also approved by the diocese, was Father Samuel Pusateri, a religious order priest who later pleaded guilty to criminal sexual assault of a child.

A confessional service was part of the retreat. Instead of celebrating that sacrament in the worship assembly building, where several other priests were also hearing confession, Roberts led William out of the building, through hallways of the school, and into the office of the school’s principal. In that lonely room, Roberts forcibly held William against his body and kissed William on the mouth multiple times, despite William’s best efforts to flee. Roberts’ manner of abusing William was consistent with his behavior in numerous other credible accounts of abuse. The Illinois Supreme Court explained, in a decision involving Roberts’ conduct in another case of abuse reported in the Diocese of Belleville, that in a private meeting with a young boy, Roberts repeatedly professed his love for the boy and kissed the boy on the mouth.

In response to his own abuse at Roberts’ hands, William found himself “completely numb.” Years of confusion, alcoholism, and even a suicide attempt were to follow.

In the early 2000s, William decided to report his abuse to the Diocese of Peoria in the hopes of finding closure and a path forward. In April 2004, the diocese agreed to cover the costs of any future counseling he needed as a result of Roberts’ abuse. But the payments soon stopped without explanation. Hurt and confused, William reached out to the diocese to remind its representatives of its promise to pay his counseling costs, and of the diocese’s public statement that it would pay survivors’ counseling costs as long as needed. The diocese’s new chancellor, Patricia Gibson, flatly refused William’s request that it honor its commitment to pay for his counseling. William appealed to Bishop Daniel Jenky, hoping the head of the diocese could put the situation to rest. But Bishop Jenky merely confirmed the diocese was backing out of the arrangement and suggested the official who had initially approved it had been mistaken. That official, the vicar general, was the same person who was in charge of the Emmaus Days program at which Roberts sexually abused William. With respect to William’s own anguish, William recounts that the bishop offered no comfort, remorse, or accountability. Instead, he wrote, “I am sorry that you feel betrayed and hurt by this process, but we believe that we have dealt with you fairly and in cooperation with the efforts made by the Diocese of Dallas.” William says the bishop seemed to be blaming Peoria’s decision to cease payments at least in part on William’s contact with Roberts’ home diocese in Dallas.

The diocese’s new chancellor, Patricia Gibson, flatly refused William’s request that it honor its commitment to pay for his counseling.

But in William’s view, “the Diocese of Dallas showed accountability and great Christian compassion. Instead of taking responsibility, protecting children and survivors, and helping victims heal, the Diocese of Peoria’s actions were completely revictimizing. They called my very tiny settlement with Dallas and my seeking counseling help from Peoria ‘double dipping’—a deeply injurious comment that hurts to this day.”

Dismayed, William reached out to the former vicar general of the diocese, with whom he had become close through several years of the Emmaus Days programs and through many years thereafter as William explored his vocation. They had also been in contact when the 2004 agreement was reached. The former vicar general’s response undercut Bishop Jenky’s assertions: “It was always my belief,” he wrote, “that these things happened on our watch and that we were responsible for what happened in the diocese. I wasn’t going to blame Dallas,” he added. The former vicar general then spoke to Bishop Jenky’s letter directly, as well as to the chancellor’s actions towards William (and survivors in general): “While I have never seen the Bishop’s letter to you, I am aware that he can be offensive in a letter in ways that I presume he does not intend. [The chancellor] is a lawyer and thinks like one, and in cases such as yours is always on the defensive.” The former vicar general also directly acknowledged the diocese’s failure to act upon the warning signs of Roberts’ predatory behavior during the time Roberts led Emmaus Days and other retreats in Peoria:

I had seen [Roberts] be quite affectionate with the kids (in a way that I would never have felt comfortable doing) but I simply told myself I was too constricted and should not think ill of such a holy man. In hindsight I should have gone with my instincts and said something to him, but in those days I just didn’t think (or want to think) that such a thing could be happening.

The following years were not easy for William. Frustrated with the lack of compassion shown him by the Diocese of Peoria, William contacted both future Cardinal Blaise Cupich, then an official with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Cardinal Francis George, then leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago, seeking their “advocacy, healing, and intervention.” Both refused his plea for help. As William sees it, “they played politics, and placed their image and church self-protection over justice, accountability, Christian compassion, and victim healing. There was absolutely no recourse provided—there was no means of appeal for anyone revictimized or betrayed by a bishop, as was my case. All of the ‘higher ups’ stood firmly with the autonomy of each bishop instead of standing with righteousness, compassion, advocacy, and victim healing.”

Having been bullied and betrayed, and seeing no evidence that anyone in the Diocese of Peoria or elsewhere in the church would intervene to help, William gave up hope that his counseling costs would be paid by those he deemed responsible for his suffering. William was forced into a position to try to close this painful chapter of his life, even if it had to be done on the church’s terms. In early 2009, he was on the precipice of an agreement with the Diocese of Peoria when he received a traumatizing phone call from its chancellor.

The memory of this call, which he took in his driveway, is seared into his thoughts as vividly as the abuse he endured from Roberts. As William remembers it, the chancellor asked if he would be willing, in exchange for an agreed sum, to go “on record” and say either that Bishop Jenky did not renege on the initial agreement or that the diocesan official who had approved it either acted outside of his authority or miscommunicated it to William. William refused. As William’s wife recalls, she had “never seen him so broken. They were asking him to lie.” William’s refusal to do so upset the chancellor. “She screamed at me,” William says. “I mean Webster’s Dictionary definition screaming. All of her responses started with ‘Why can’t you just . . . ?’ I responded with a question: ‘Why won’t Bishop Jenky simply honor his word and pay for my counseling?’”

A short time later, the diocese backed down and reached an agreement with William that did not require him to make a public statement. But even today, William can’t help but wonder about his conversation with the chancellor. “Without a question, in that moment, had I agreed to lie, she would have settled then. It was a quid pro quo.” He sums up his feelings on the exchange: “As a boy, when I asked for the sacrament of reconciliation, I came with defenses down and total trust in Catholic Christian goodness to help me heal, and was instead betrayed, abused, and left powerless. Later, as a man, I did the same when I approached the Diocese of Peoria, coming to them defenses down, never using a lawyer, and trusting that surely their professed Catholic Christian compassion and goodness would lead to healing. Instead, just like I was spiritually raped in the confessional as a boy, they bullied me with lawyers, wanting me powerless, accepting terms that benefitted their interests.”

For its part, the Diocese of Peoria acknowledged Roberts as having been credibly accused of child sex abuse within its borders only after the Attorney General’s investigation began. This delay occurred despite William’s coming forward over a decade earlier, and despite the diocese’s paying for some of William’s counseling related to the abuse. Roberts is also acknowledged as having been credibly accused of child sex abuse in his home diocese of Dallas, as well as the Diocese of Belleville and the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.

And despite William’s repeated missives to the diocese about counseling, about its cessation of counseling payments, and the discussions of a way forward, certain of these documents were simply not produced to the Attorney General’s investigators in the diocese’s file relating to Roberts. For example, the file contains no communications between William and the diocese in 2009, when William was attempting to reach an agreement with the diocese regarding his counseling costs. Nor does the file contain William’s 2006 letter to Bishop Jenky or Bishop Jenky’s response.

Through it all, William has done his best to move on. “I’m going to do what I’ve always done,” he says, “live one day at a time.” It’s an understanding he gained from over two decades of sobriety through 12-step recovery work, and years of therapy. But as he reflects on his exchanges with the Diocese of Peoria, which he calls “a deeper and additional source of betrayal,” his thoughts are clear. “There is no healing in the Peoria Catholic Church,” he says. “My healing has come from understanding that the predatory priest who abused me was a sick person with a compulsive drive to violate.”

See details for Kenneth Roberts

Back to Top

Scroll of Abusive Clerics/Brothers



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.*