There were a lot of secrets between “Kevin” and Father Theodore Feely, a religious order priest assigned to the Diocese of Rockford. It started with swearing—a sin, taking God’s name in vain. It moved to smoking, even though Kevin was only 13 years old and had asthma. Next came drinking—beer. On his first night ever consuming alcohol, Feely bought Kevin a six pack and told him it was all his because “everyone knew” that Feely drank scotch. Then came the rape.
After a wonderful day at the Wisconsin Dells with Feely, a trusted family friend who spent many nights at Kevin’s family’s dinner table—and passed many a Sunday watching football with Kevin’s father— Kevin awoke because Feely had him in a chokehold and was already deep inside him. As Kevin cried, Feely told him not to worry. It would be over soon.
There was one more secret to come. After five days at the Wisconsin Dells, Kevin was finally going home. On the way, Feely told him that what happened between them was their secret—and if he told his parents, it would destroy them, and his family would never be the same. Feely also said no one would believe Kevin if he told because everyone loved their local priest.
Not knowing where else to go, Kevin went to the church. In the confession booth at Saints Peter and Paul in Rockford, he told the priest what happened. That priest pulled him out of the booth, pushed him down the steps of the church, and told him to never return. “I hoped he’d help me,” Kevin says, “but instead, he threw me out.”
Kevin’s memories of the abuse were suppressed for quite some time. They returned around 2002, when a picture on the front page of the newspaper made him weep. It was a picture of Tom Paciorek, voice of the Chicago White Sox. In the accompanying article, Paciorek said he and three of his brothers had been molested by a priest who taught at their high school in Michigan. Paciorek wondered if he could have saved his brothers and sisters from clergy abuse. Kevin knew exactly how he felt.
Kevin’s wife asked him what he was going to do. Like other survivors of sexual abuse, Kevin had tried to cope the best he could; he became an alcoholic, used heroin, and attempted suicide twice. But this time, he decided he would report Feely’s abuse to the Diocese of Rockford. He credits his wife with saving his life. In May 2002, Kevin and his wife met with Monsignor David Kagan, who was the vicar general of the diocese. “He was a prick,” Kevin says, but Kagan did concede this was not the first complaint he had heard about Feely.
In fact, the diocese had learned about another, similar allegation of sexual abuse against Feely just a month earlier, in April 2002. But the diocese did not take any steps to investigate either Kevin’s allegation or the other survivor’s. That’s because Feely was not a diocesan priest but rather was a member of the Franciscans, a religious order. At the time, the diocese’s policy was not to conduct its own investigation of child sex abuse allegations made against religious order priests but instead to refer the allegation to the religious order to conduct its own investigation. (The diocese has changed that policy as a result of the Attorney General’s investigation; it now conducts its own investigation if the alleged abuse occurred during the religious order priest’s assignment in the diocese.)
Kevin has since become active in the survivor community. That has been a positive journey for him. He came forward with the hope of encouraging others to do the same. “It was something I needed to do,” he says.