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Survivor Narratives

Louis C. Shea

Father Louis Shea sexually abused children while he ministered within the Diocese of Springfield. That much came through when the Attorney General’s investigators analyzed the scant file the diocese produced regarding Shea. So investigators pushed the diocese to add Shea to its published list of substantiated child sex abusers. But the diocese was reluctant to do so without speaking with the survivor who had accused Shea—“we have not heard from her since 2004, and do not want to reach out because she may have moved on; we don’t want to trigger memories.” The investigators knew though that the survivor had not “moved on.” Not only had she contacted the Attorney General’s investigators asking for help regarding the abuse she endured at Shea’s hands, but her sister had done the same regarding her own abuse by Shea.

In the 1960s, when sisters “Abby” and “Annie” were 5 and 6 years old, Shea was considered a friend of the family—Mom, Dad, Abby, Annie, and their siblings. When Shea was an assistant pastor at the family’s parish, he came to their home for dinner at least once a week. After dinner he would drink hard liquor with the girls’ father. “Father Shea always smelled like booze and pipe tobacco,” Abby recalls. At bedtime, he would “come looking for me, lift me up in front of all my family members, and take me upstairs to ‘tuck me in’ and ‘pray over me.’” Abby shared a bedroom with Annie, but as the older sister, Annie was allowed to stay up later. Once upstairs “in the dark,” Shea would pull down Abby’s “bedspread and sheet and then he laid next to me, where he repeatedly tickled, then fondled, then more intently felt my body, moving my top up and bottoms down, positioning my legs where he could feel my genitals.”

Reliving those nights, Abby remembers that “Father Shea always whispered and told me to be very quiet. He told me he loved me, and that Jesus loved me. He asked me how it felt when he fondled and touched different areas of my body. I remember him watching my face and looking into my eyes for a response. I don’t remember penetration, but I do remember regular instances of continual rubbing and him exploring the folds and details of my genitals.”

Being the older sister did not allow Annie to escape Shea’s abuse. She remembers Shea would sometimes stay in the guest bedroom, adjacent to the girls’ room. Shea would come “into the bedroom to tuck me in, and lay down on my twin bed and spoon and grope me.” He “always smelled of alcohol” and would sometimes start by rubbing or massaging the back of her neck, armpits, and then move around to her breast nipples and belly button and then the underpants area. Shea “would kiss the back of my neck and shoulders but not my face. There was never any penetration made but there was massaging and rubbing and groping.”

Annie “liked to read in bed, and this is what I would do many times while Father Shea was groping and fondling me.” She “learned how to bury herself in books—to focus on books, and not what was being done to my little body.”

Over time, it became known to the sisters that the other was being abused. Abby remembers hiding from Shea, afraid of the abuse that was coming. Once “I went upstairs to hide behind a large bathtub and found my sister there. I remember asking, ‘What are you doing here,’ and she said, ‘I’m hiding from Father Shea.’ I said, ‘Me too,’ and crawled in next to her.” Annie too remembers “hiding in the bathroom when we heard Father Shea’s footsteps on the staircase coming up to the second floor.”

Abby says the abuse “went on for a very long time. I didn’t even have words to talk about it for almost a decade afterward.” She was abused “repeatedly, at least once a week for approximately three years.” Abby is not sure why the abuse stopped—“I don’t remember ever thinking I could tell him to stop or to leave me alone.” Maybe it stopped because he “was reassigned or maybe he just lost interest.” Near the end of the period of abuse, Shea (a self-described artist) gave Abby a portrait of her he painted. He also gave her a self-portrait—“it was very dark and looked like Father Shea at night in my bedroom.” Abby has the painting still—“it is creepy to this day.”

Annie estimates that Shea abused her “between 60 and 100 times, over approximately four years.” She remembers the final episode of abuse. Shea was “reaching into my underpants one time when he went too far, I braced my feet against the wall and pushed back hard to push him off the bed and onto the floor.” That “was the last time Father Shea approached me.”

Both sisters have been in counseling over the years to help them deal with, and try to heal from, Shea’s sex abuse. Decades ago, at the suggestion of one of her counselors, Annie summoned the courage to confront her abuser. She found Shea’s telephone number, called him, and told him “I know what you did to me; you’ll burn in hell.” Shea’s only response (repeated over and over during the call)—“I have no recollection.”

For her part, Abby reached out in 2002 to Bishop George Lucas and reported Shea’s abuse. Lucas prepared an internal memorandum after the call, writing that the woman he spoke with “reports sexual abuse by a priest over a period of years when she was 5-7 years old. She claims her sister was also abused during the same time period.” The bishop told Abby that Shea was dead, offered an apology, and encouraged her to contact the state’s attorney “if she wishes. Since it is her story and her reputation that are involved, I would leave to her whether she wishes anyone else to know about it.”

Not satisfied with her 2002 conversation with the bishop, Abby contacted the diocese two years later in 2004 and exchanged communications with the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator. She was again encouraged to “contact appropriate civil authorities.” And that is where things stood at the diocese until Abby and Annie separately (and unbeknownst to the other) reached out to the Attorney General’s investigators in 2018. Annie told investigators that “it’s time for me to step up, and do what I should have done long ago” and report the details of Shea’s abuse. Abby also reported the abuse, commenting that at the time it occurred “we were too young to speak up or understand.” From those communications, it was clear to the Attorney General’s investigators that the sisters had not “moved on,” as diocesan officials had speculated.

After the Attorney General’s investigators made it known to the diocese that Abby and Annie had contacted them regarding Shea’s abuse, the diocese wrote both sisters, showing a newfound interest in their wellbeing and offering an opportunity to “meet with our Diocesan Review Board” and “with the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield.” The invitation seemed straightforward enough. But the ordeal that followed in the spring and summer of 2019 was far from straightforward.

As it turned out, the invitation to meet with the review board was conditioned upon Abby and Annie first meeting separately with the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator so an “incident report” could be completed for the review board’s consideration—a significant condition for Abby given that she now lives far from Illinois. The sisters also learned that outside legal counsel for the diocese would be present during this initial meeting. Because they were comfortable with the Attorney General’s investigator they had worked with regarding Shea’s abuse of them, they asked the diocese if he could join the meeting to offer emotional support. The diocese denied their request. Instead, the diocese told Abby and Annie they could bring anyone for emotional support—anyone, that is, except the Attorney General’s investigator.

Abby and Annie’s request for emotional support was well founded, because rather than an opportunity for each of them to separately report what happened to them, the initial meetings were in the nature of inquisitions, with legal counsel for the diocese interrogating the sisters. To Abby and Annie, it seemed the actual purpose of the meetings was for legal counsel to obtain information in the event litigation ensued. Worse yet, the draft incident reports generated by the victims assistance coordinator for Abby’s and Annie’s review both omitted critical facts about Shea’s abuse and included misstatements relating to the meeting (for example, failing to note legal counsel to the diocese was present) and relating to the sex abuse Abby and Annie suffered. To their credit, Abby and Annie weathered the storm, with each submitting corrected incident reports for the diocese’s review board to consider in a meeting scheduled for a few weeks later, a meeting they wanted to attend. In those reports, both Abby and Annie made clear that the “assistance” they sought was for Shea’s name to be added to the diocese’s list of substantiated child sex abusers, something the diocese refused to do.

As Abby put it, “there was a stubborn refusal to act for 17 years, and not until forced to do so by the Attorney General."

Still stinging from the interrogation by the diocese’s legal counsel a few weeks earlier, as the date for the review board meeting approached, Abby and Annie asked if they could have a friend accompany them to that meeting to offer emotional support. The requests were denied—if they wanted to address the review board, they would do so alone “in keeping with past practice of the diocese.” While disappointed with that news, Abby and Annie remained undeterred. Each would meet with the review board to detail the child sex abuse they suffered so many years ago at the hands of one of the diocese’s priests.

Abby and Annie’s separate experiences with the review board were not significantly different. As they intended to do, each detailed the abuse Shea heaped upon them. Remarkably, the review board conceded that they had seen no evidence that the diocese had undertaken any investigation regarding Shea’s child sex abuse. Beyond that, Abby and Annie both found the majority of the review board’s members detached—as Abby put it “they showed a lack of empathy or coldness. There were two men who did not, or could not, look at me when I talked about the abuse I endured by Father Shea. Were they even listening?” Two members were “trying to absorb what was being said. The rest appeared to me as cold, hiding, indifferent or dismissive. It made me angry.”

A few days after her meeting with the review board, Abby met with Bishop Paprocki, the victims assistance coordinator, and the head of the review board. The bishop asked Abby if she was “Catholic, do you believe in God?” Abby explained that she was no longer Catholic and that her “experience with Father Shea is what helped me examine and come to this decision.” Undeterred, Bishop Paprocki told her to “come back, I am the shepherd of souls.” He then asked, if “I put Father Shea on the list, is that going to make you happy?” In response, Abby simply reiterated that he “needed to put Father Shea on the credibly accused list.” Abby then thanked the three of them, and excused herself from the meeting.

Abby’s final point to Attorney General’s investigators was that “much work remains in order for the Diocese of Springfield and Bishop Paprocki to understand the needs of survivor healing.”

The takeaway for these survivors from the diocese’s “victims assistance” program was a negative. Throughout the process the Diocese of Springfield and Bishop Paprocki prioritized their own interests over supporting the survivors, and showed a failure to truly listen and understand what survivors need along their path to healing. As Abby put it, “there was a stubborn refusal to act for 17 years, and not until forced to do so by the Attorney General. Incredible pain for the victim, who provided all the information, as there was no investigation. An interrogation by a nationally known defense lawyer, with the results of that meeting producing a badly written, incomplete incident report that diminished the horror of my experience. Then a review board gathered to judge whether a victim’s experience is credible. It all feels unfair and incomplete, only to serve the diocese, not the victim.” And the meeting with the bishop, in which her faith was questioned and she was told that the bishop was “the shepherd of souls,” left Abby shaking her head in amazement.

The one positive from the experience (a significant one) is that after Abby and Annie met with the review board, it recommended to the bishop that Shea’s child sex abuse of both Abby and Annie be substantiated. With that, Shea’s name was added to the diocese’s list of child sex abusers. This news was communicated to Abby and Annie by the victims assistance coordinator, but rather than acknowledge the abuse with a humble apology and request for forgiveness, the victims assistance coordinator closed with this—“The Holy Spirit intervened and wisdom prevailed.”

Reflecting on it all, Abby’s final point to Attorney General’s investigators was that “much work remains in order for the Diocese of Springfield and Bishop Paprocki to understand the needs of survivor healing.”

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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.*