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Survivor Narratives

William C. Wert

Even after Father William Wert was convicted of assaulting a 14 year old boy, his Carmelite religious order let him move to the group’s retirement home. And while he was there, Wert was criminally convicted of sexually abusing another 14 year old boy. Given these convictions, one would have hoped the Carmelite order and the Diocese of Joliet—where Wert ministered for over a decade—would have disclosed Wert on their public lists of credibly accused priests. They did not do so, however, until the Attorney General’s investigators intervened.

After ministering across the country and in Canada, Wert arrived in the Diocese of Joliet in 1987. In 1990, he was appointed the athletic director and then principal of Joliet Catholic Academy. He remained in the diocese until 1993 and then returned to the area again between 1999 and 2004.

In May 2007, while living in Washington D.C., Wert was charged with sexual abuse of a minor. He followed a 14 year old boy from a train station, asked if he knew somewhere they could hide, and then grabbed the child’s inner thigh. Wert was convicted of simple assault and sentenced to 180 days in jail. The Carmelites removed Wert from public ministry and imposed a “safety plan” but did not strip him of his clerical status.

After he was released from jail, Wert retreated to the Carmelite’s retirement home near Venice, Florida, to serve out his five years of probation. The Carmelites claimed they “took steps” to keep Wert away from children. Nevertheless, the Carmelites did not notify the local diocese of Wert’s criminal conviction. The Carmelites felt this “was not necessary because Wert was not authorized to perform ministry for the diocese.”

Whatever “steps” the Carmelites took to keep Wert away from children were inadequate. In January 2011, a Venice father found lewd messages from Wert on his 14 year old son’s phone. The father reported Wert to the authorities, who charged him with 11 counts of sexual battery and lewd behavior. At trial, it was revealed that Wert and the boy met in an online chat room sometime in the fall of 2010. For the next several months, Wert sexually abused the child in the Carmelite’s residence, an empty house, a wooded area, and a motel room. In February 2013, a jury convicted Wert of eight counts of illegal sexual activity and sentenced him to life in prison.

The boy’s father also filed a lawsuit against Wert and the Carmelites for sexual abuse and failing to supervise, respectively. That case settled in 2011. Wert was “separated” from the Carmelite order in 2012 but was not laicized until March 2015.

All told, the diocese did not disclose Wert until February 2021—14 years after the disgraced priest was first convicted of assaulting a child.

In August 2019, the Attorney General’s investigators sought to have the Diocese of Joliet add Wert to its public list on the basis of his two criminal convictions. The diocese did not do so. Then, in February 2020, the investigators informed the diocese that Wert had been added to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’s public list and reiterated the need for the Diocese of Joliet to do the same. It finally did so after the Carmelites disclosed Wert on the order’s public list. All told, the diocese did not disclose Wert until February 2021—14 years after the disgraced priest was first convicted of assaulting a child.

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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.*