In the summer of 1981, 13 year old “Christina” was an active member of the youth group at Visitation, the Diocese of Joliet’s parish in Elmhurst. She enjoyed youth group meetings and events—or hanging out with friends. Father Mark Jendrysik, a young seminarian who helped lead the youth group, took a special interest in Christina and her friends. He would drive them home from meetings and events and would hug each of them to say goodbye when dropping them off. But Jendrysik always made Christina “feel special.” He let her sit in the front seat of his car and gave her extra attention.
One night, Christina was the last girl left in Jendrysik’s car. He parked in her driveway and leaned over to the passenger seat and hugged her goodbye. But this time, he kissed her, “aggressively stuck his tongue down her throat,” and roughly grabbed her breast over and under her clothing. This was Christina’s first kiss. When she made it inside her home, she was angry at Jendrysik. She had a crush on a boy at school and didn’t want her first kiss to be with Jendrysik.
Jendrysik continued to abuse Christina for the remainder of the summer. He got bolder as time went on, taking advantage of his access to her at the Visitation youth group. He was constantly pulling her aside so they could be alone where he would kiss and touch her. He would bring her into the basement kitchen at the parish to abuse her. He touched her genitals over her clothing and forced her to touch his.
Christina does not recall all the details with absolute clarity, but she believes Jendrysik did more to her. When she engaged in other sex acts as an adult, she did not feel pain; to the contrary, it felt like she had experienced them before. Christina does remember Jendrysik bringing her into the rectory where he was staying that summer. She recalls walking past the secretary into the residential area, feeling embarrassed and scared as the secretary watched her walk by. The next thing she remembers is walking out of the rectory feeling ashamed.
When the abuse started, Christina felt angry but helpless. But Jendrysik convinced her this was a special relationship and instructed her to not tell anyone. As the abuse continued, she explains, “there came a point where I felt nothing at all.” Christina did not tell anyone because she was afraid she would be in trouble. She was made to believe she “did something to make him break his vow of celibacy.” Jendrysik left Visitation at the end of the summer of 1981.
Jendrysik returned during the school year and visited Christina’s eighth grade classroom. While addressing the class, he stood behind Christina and massaged her neck and shoulders as her classmates watched. Christina was embarrassed, terrified, and frozen. Jendrysik followed Christina to her locker and said he wanted to see her. Christina refused and the other kids asked why she was “yelling at Father Mark.” At a youth group meeting later that weekend, Jendrysik showed up and tried to get Christina to spend time with him. She refused. A father of another child pulled Jendrysik aside and told him Christina had asked him to leave her alone.
In 1996, Jendrysik called Christina on her home phone and asked to speak with her. She wasn’t home but the message was relayed to her by her mother. She didn’t return his call.
In May 2009, Christina began seeking healing and felt God was asking her to forgive Jendrysik. She called Jendrysik to tell him she had forgiven him for abusing her. Jendrysik said he remembered what he had done. He said he remembered their relationship “like you remember a first love.” She told him she was a child, it was not a relationship, and he took away her innocence. He claimed he had used his experience with Christina to help other priests deal with their “mistakes.”
Jendrysik’s abuse caused Christina an emotional trauma that impacted different areas of her life. She struggles to practice her Christian faith. She is unable to feel attached to or trust others. She often feels shame in intimate relationships as she struggles to say “no” in situations. Christina says she feels “despair and hopelessness over whether my life will get better.” Depression and anxiety make her feel as if she has been “damaged to a place where” she doesn’t know if she will “ever be repaired.”
In 2017, Christina considered reporting the abuse by Jendrysik but decided against it when she had constant fear and anxiety at the thought of reporting it. In 2018, she learned of the Attorney General’s investigation into the abuse of children by Catholic clerics and “felt there’s someone on [her] side.” She contacted the Attorney General’s investigators through the hotline and email inbox for survivors of Catholic clerical sexual abuse of children and reported the abuse by Jendrysik; this was the first time she reported the abuse to anyone. Next, she filed a report with the Elmhurst police about the abuse. The police interviewed Jendrysik in response to Christina’s report, and the police report states he admitted to having “a relationship with” Christina and that there was “a possibility that I touched her breast while we were kissing.” Christina also reported the abuse to the Diocese of Joliet’s victim assistance coordinator, who offered to pay for counseling; however, Christina learned from a form provided by the counselor that by signing this she would be required to release her progress notes to the diocese and would not be protected by the federal health privacy laws. This made Christina feel deceived and caused more emotional damage. The diocese also offered to provide counseling for Christina’s mother but never returned her call to set it up.
In December 2018, the diocese informed Christina that Jendrysik had been “defrocked” and was removed from his position at the church where he served. Christina assumed he was no longer a priest. Therefore, she was shocked to learn that Jendrysik had been officially removed from the priesthood and officially laicized in late 2021, when Christina had the opportunity to meet with Bishop Ronald Hicks to discuss the abuse with him in person. Such confusion over the diocese’s response to Christina’s reporting the abuse only engendered mistrust for her.
Over the years, Christina has written about her abuse and received emails and calls from other victims of misconduct by Jendrysik. One told Christina that they had reported Jendrysik to the diocese but didn’t see anything come of it. She was also told Jendrysik has been communicating “the relationship with Christina was mutual and he is being made an example of by the diocese.” As of 2021, other parishes continued to put “Father Mark Jendrysik” on their list of prayer requests in various online and printed materials. These events have caused further trauma to Christina.
Although an internal church investigation resulted in Jendrysik’s laicization in 2021, that investigation placed undue emphasis on the public nature of Christina’s reporting of the abuse. In August 2020, the church’s investigation recommended Jendrysik’s laicization, recognizing that Jendrysik had admitted to abusing Christina to the police. The church’s investigation highlighted public reporting on Christina’s allegations of abuse in recommending laicization, noting that her allegations had “been made public by various influential news agencies.” The investigation took into account Christina’s online posts about the abuse, concluding that “the situation is no longer occult and is not possible to prevent or repair scandal without recourse to the public forum.” The September 2020 decree initiating canonical proceedings against Jendrysik for abusing Christina described how his “inappropriate conduct . . . seem[s] to cause gravest scandal among the faithful.” The church’s continued focus on publicity and “scandal” about a priest sexually abusing a child even in present day investigations demonstrates why survivors still feel the need to put their trauma on public display. They rightfully believe that the public eye may be the only way to ensure accountability for the church.
Christina retained an attorney to pursue a claim against the Diocese of Joliet. In late 2022, four years after starting the reporting process with the diocese, Christina and the diocese reached a monetary settlement. Throughout the process, Christina felt that the diocese failed to appreciate the profound impact that the abuse had on her life because she is articulate and appears physically put together. She was saddened that, despite Catholic clergy child sex abuse being so prevalent, the diocese did not appear to have educated itself or have any understanding of the “invisible” damages and the internal struggles survivors endure. The diocese’s focus on her “failure to come forward sooner” likewise evidenced the diocese’s ignorance or disregard for the fact that only a small percentage of victims ever find the courage to share with anyone that they have been abused. Christina feels that “the church only cares about moving on. They don’t care about doing what is right for victims.” Along those lines, Christina said that when she asked for a letter of acknowledgement and apology from the diocese about the abuse, it denied her request.