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Survivor Narratives

Theodore Feely

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.*