Norman D. Goodman
The title of “monsignor” is reserved for clergy who have distinguished themselves by exceptional service to the church. The title is bestowed directly by the pope upon recommendation by the priest’s diocesan bishop. So Monsignor Norman Goodman was singled out as exceptional, not just by his own bishop, but also by the seat of the church in Rome. And according to “Jacob”—who was sexually abused by Goodman as a child—the Diocese of Peoria’s actions in the aftermath of his allegations demonstrate just how far it was willing to go to protect the reputation of one of its favored shepherds—at the expense of the youngest members of the flock.
Jacob shares his experience in a matter-of-fact way because, he says, he wasn’t the only one Goodman abused. Jacob was an altar server at Holy Family in Lincoln. Goodman would approach him from behind, press him up against a counter or sink, and fondle him. Sometimes Goodman would even stick money down Jacob’s front pants pocket as an excuse to touch his genitals. The abuse occurred when Jacob was in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade; it stopped around 1983.
In the late 1990s, Jacob told his family he had been abused by Goodman. He also came forward to the diocese. “Initially, I was in the mindset of, don’t pursue this, I don’t want anyone to know, this is a small town,” Jacob explains. His attitude changed after he sat down with diocesan representatives and their lawyers.
Jacob’s goals in that initial meeting were simple and straightforward. He wanted the diocese to acknowledge the abuse took place, remove Goodman from ministry so he wasn’t a danger to any other children, and offer a public apology. “They said that none of that is happening,” Jacob recalls—and so Goodman remained in ministry at Jacob’s parish.
When the diocese finally “retired” Goodman in the late 1990s, ostensibly in response to additional allegations that had surfaced against him, Jacob remembers the diocese sought to paint Goodman as the victim. He says a senior diocesan official came to Holy Family to offer mass and “say how wonderful Goodman was and how we’re going to miss him. They cloaked the church with wreaths of black garland as if Goodman was the one who had been victimized.” Even after that, the survivor says Goodman kept returning to Lincoln. He would sit at the school playground adjacent to Holy Family; he would also frequent other playgrounds in town and even the public pool where children often gathered.
One of the allegations against Goodman was forwarded to the Logan County state’s attorney because that survivor was still under 18 years old. But the state’s attorney declined to charge Goodman with any crimes. The diocese responded by drafting a celebratory press release. It said it was “pleased” with the decision and had “steadfastly believed in Msgr. Goodman’s innocence.” It closed with a shot aimed squarely at Goodman’s survivors: “The Peoria Diocese is confident the issue will now be put to rest, and those involved will get on with their lives.”
The diocese’s admonishment only served to motivate Jacob. He turned his focus to mediating his dispute with the diocese and securing settlement on behalf of himself and other survivors. Jacob says he was supposed to receive five meetings with the diocese to help them rewrite their abuse policies and procedures; he got just two. He also says the survivors were supposed to receive “a public apology, which we never got.” One moment from the mediation continues to gnaw at Jacob. A senior diocesan official—the same priest who lauded Goodman at his retirement mass—said to Jacob, “If you have such a problem with it, you need to catch [Goodman’s] hand in the cookie jar.” Jacob said, “A cookie jar would be a boy’s pants.” The official responded, “I know. Whatever. Just catch him.”
Finally, in 2002, the diocese placed Goodman on permanent leave and publicly acknowledged the sexual abuse allegations against him. But the work, Jacob says, had only just begun. “The mindset of my generation is, if you want to have a street fight, we’re going to have a street fight.” It’s this mentality that has led Jacob to take his advocacy on behalf of survivors beyond central Illinois. Since the late 1990s, he has travelled the world—from Dallas to Boston, from Australia to Rome—connecting survivors, attorneys, and advocacy groups in the name of promoting healing and ensuring accountability. Even today, Jacob says the church’s response continues to disappoint him: “What they did to us, and still do, when you’re in a religion, you have a level of ethics, morals, or decorum. I had never considered in a million years that that would not be present.” And so Jacob’s fight continues.
As for Goodman, the once favored son, the Diocese of Peoria produced records to the Attorney General’s investigators disclosing 19 survivors of Goodman’s child sex abuse.