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Survivor Narratives

Salvatore Formusa

Father Salvatore Formusa served within the Archdiocese of Chicago at the beginning of his career and abused children while serving in the Diocese of Joliet later in his career. Today, the Diocese of Joliet and the Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledge Formusa as having been credibly accused of sexually abusing children.

Formusa was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1935. His third assignment after ordination was to Saint Anthony in Joliet in 1945; he served there until 1950. In December 1948, Pope Pius XII issued a decree establishing the new Diocese of Joliet from portions of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the dioceses of Rockford and Peoria. Formusa became a priest of the new Diocese of Joliet because his parish fell within its territory.

Formusa’s first known instance of abuse occurred in the early 1960s while he was pastor of Holy Trinity in Westmont. The exact details are unclear, as the only apparent documentation was in shorthand notes of Romeo Blanchette, who at the time was the Diocese of Joliet’s vicar general and would eventually become its second bishop. According to Blanchette’s notes, in or around October 1962, a 9 year old girl in the fourth grade visited Formusa “concerned about [her] parents’ marital difficulties.” Blanchette’s notes further indicate that Formusa sat the girl in his lap, kissed her three times, and “explained about babies.” The notes also reveal that Formusa made a reference to “something hard in [his] pants” and that there was “[i]ndecent exposure. She handled him.” Formusa told the girl not to tell her mother: “It’s our secret,” he insisted. “We’re going to be real good friends.” Blanchette consulted Westmont’s police chief, who said he was aware of two previous incidents involving Formusa. One parent had reported Formusa’s improper advances toward his daughter, while another parent had reported that her teenage daughter did not want to be alone with Formusa.

Formusa told the girl not to tell her mother: “It’s our secret,” he insisted. “We’re going to be real good friends.”

Blanchette then spoke to Formusa, who “admitted the child’s story” and “[d]id not try to deny his guilt.” Formusa said he was willing to “express sorrow to [the] parents of [the] girl,” but Blanchette told him “not to say anything.” Blanchette told Formusa he would ask the girl and her parents “not to talk to anyone about this, so that there would be no widespread scandal.” Blanchette sent Formusa to an Alexian Brothers facility in Wisconsin for psychological testing and therapy.

During his stay at the psychiatric facility, Formusa pleaded with Blanchette to remain at his assignment in Westmont, pledging “that this thing will never happen again.” Blanchette advised Formusa to resign the post, but Formusa asked Blanchette to reconsider. He insisted there was no public scandal concerning his admitted sexual acts with the 9 year old girl. And he noted he “pleaded guilty on one count, but not on three.” Formusa continued to deny the two allegations made to the Westmont police, even going so far as to call one of those survivors “delinquent” and “feeble-minded.” Blanchette responded by observing Formusa’s “tendency to minimize the incidents which led to” his stay at the psychiatric facility. “Just as the alcoholic cannot become better unless he admits that he needs help, so, too, in your case it may be that you will benefit from professional advice only if you convince yourself that you need help to cope with your problems.”

Blanchette told Formusa he would ask the girl and her parents “not to talk to anyone about this, so that there would be no widespread scandal.”

Nevertheless, Formusa was immediately shuffled to another parish upon his release from the psychiatric facility just a few months later. And barely a year into Formusa’s tenure at Immaculate Conception in Braidwood, he was the subject of another allegation of sexual misconduct. The mother of a 15 year old girl complained to the diocese in May 1964 that Formusa had chosen her daughter to help make a scrapbook in the rectory. According to Blanchette’s notes, Formusa offered the girl a bottle of beer, sat on her knee, and showed her a “sex book.” He then told the girl that he wanted to learn to dance, took her by the arm, and picked her up in the air. Formusa talked about the first night of marriage and told the teenager to “[p]romise to come back at 7:30 [to] learn to dance.” When she didn’t show up, Formusa called the girl’s home in search of her.

Blanchette determined that Formusa’s actions were “highly imprudent” and there “is a grave risk involved.” Blanchette warned Formusa that his behavior “indicated he had strong impulses [about] sexuality.” Blanchette wrote:

I told him that after the episode in Westmont, we’d expect him to be on his guard much more than a normal person. For this reason his sitting on the lap of a 15-year-old girl was extremely imprudent, and could easily have led to more serious actions. The risk is great, and so considering the whole picture, we could not for his good and the good of the Church chance his remaining in Braidwood. I asked for his letter of resignation, which he gave me, dated and signed the day before. I told him that he should not be in a rectory alone, that the presence of other priests was a help, although it was not an absolute deterrent—as shown by the Westmont episode.

Despite repeated incidents, the Diocese of Joliet still returned Formusa to ministry just six months later in November 1964. Not surprisingly, Formusa sexually abused yet another child. In July 1968, Formusa was formally charged in DuPage County with the crime of indecent liberties with a child—fondling a young girl under the age of 16. A handwritten note in the diocese’s file suggests the victim was just 9 years old.

Despite repeated incidents, the Diocese of Joliet still returned Formusa to ministry just six months later in November 1964.

Blanchette was now the Bishop of Joliet; in response to these charges, he finally withdrew Formusa’s faculties to hear the confessions of children in January 1969. Yet in 1971, Bishop Blanchette allowed Formusa—who was working toward a master’s degree in counseling—to provide psychotherapy to adults. The bishop also continued to assign Formusa to parish work, although he forbade him to have contact with children. Even this did not prevent Formusa from abusing; he simply shifted his abuse to adults.

In 1985, the diocese was contacted by a lawyer representing a woman who claimed that Formusa became sexually involved with her while he was her therapist. Although the matter settled out of court, Bishop Joseph Imesch wrote Formusa a telling letter in 1988: “There is no doubt in my mind that had the plaintiff or the lawyer for the plaintiff been more aggressive, there would have been a much higher settlement. Not only do I think you should pay [your lawyer’s] entire bill, but I would even think that you should light a vigil light for him!” Then, in 2002, the diocese received allegations from another woman who saw Formusa for counseling in the 1970s when she was in her twenties. She said Formusa sat in her lap, grabbed her and hugged her tightly, and made inappropriate sexual comments, all while she was going through a divorce.

Finally, in 2006, the Diocese of Joliet publicly acknowledged Formusa as having been credibly accused of sexual abuse. And despite that Formusa began his career in the archdiocese—and even lived in Chicago after he was credibly accused of sexually abusing children—not until October 2022 did the Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledge him as a substantiated child sex abuser.

See details for Salvatore V. Formusa

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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.*