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Survivor Narratives

William Harbert and M. Duane Leclercq

“Nathan” knew the nightmares would come. “Every time I have to tell my story,” he says, “I don’t sleep well for several nights. I just feel so much shame and guilt.” Yet still he chose to share his experiences with the Attorney General’s investigators—to let his voice be heard. He was abused by two priests as a freshman at Trinity High School in Bloomington in 1964. Today, Father William Harbert and Father Duane Leclercq are both on the Diocese of Peoria’s public list of credibly accused clerics. But that wasn’t always the case for Leclercq. As for Harbert, the diocese was aware of child sex abuse allegations against him long before it claims to have been.

Harbert taught sex education to Nathan and other freshman boys. They thought the priest was “cool because he told funny stories.” But otherwise they found him a bit odd. Harbert had a terrible habit of grabbing boys by the crotch in the hallways of Trinity High School and then “giggling like a kid.” “We thought it was grab-assing,” Nathan recalls, referring to a type of horseplay. “But he would do it often. I remember times walking down the hallway, going to the bathroom, and he would grab you by the groin and say, ‘Gotcha!’” On one occasion, Harbert asked Nathan and some friends to accompany him to a dentist appointment after school. “It was real cool back then to be hanging with a priest,” Nathan explains. But even in the car, Harbert’s abuse continued: “He would grab you in the car and say, ‘Gotcha!’”

Then, suddenly, Harbert was transferred to Saint Joseph in Pekin, about 30 minutes away from Bloomington. Still, he continued to abuse Nathan and his friends. Harbert invited the boys out to Pekin for a hayrack ride; he even offered to pick them up and drive them there. Just outside Pekin on Route 9, Harbert stopped at a gas station and emerged with fruit-flavored gin. He offered all the boys a drink. On the way back from the hayrack ride, Harbert stopped at the same gas station so the boys could use the bathroom. He followed them in there and grabbed them by the groin. Afterwards, he gave them even more gin—so much that Nathan blacked out.

The Diocese of Peoria claims it didn’t know Harbert was a predator until a survivor came forward in 1992. Its own records show otherwise. In 1974, Bishop Edward O’Rourke responded to a letter from a couple who said they knew “the real reason” Harbert left Saint Rose in Rushville. The bishop thanked them for keeping quiet: “I greatly appreciate your wisdom and tact in avoiding public comment about the personal problems of Father Harbert.” In 1988, Bishop John Myers responded to a letter from a survivor’s mother describing abuse that occurred in the 1970s. “During the period which you mentioned,” the bishop conceded, “the diocese did have Father Harbert in psychotherapy. It is amazing that this kind of thing could occur, but who knows the mystery of evil in this world.” Later that year, the bishop wrote a careful but telling letter to the mother of two more survivors: “Only recently have I become aware of specific instances of [Harbert’s] problem. I assure you that he has been receiving help for a long time and that we do monitor the situation.” Yet a 1994 letter to Harbert from the diocese’s vicar general shows the church was still receiving reports of young boys coming and going from Harbert’s home.

The Diocese of Peoria claims it didn’t know Harbert was a predator until a survivor came forward in 1992. Its own records show otherwise.

Leclercq was also a priest at Nathan’s high school. Like many teenagers, Nathan did his best to keep busy outside class. He “went out for wrestling” even though he “wasn’t very good at many sports.” Practices took place in the Trinity High School basement. “I’d wrestle the heavyweights,” Nathan recalls, “even though they were bigger.” But there’s a distinct difference between wrestling a teenager at practice and fending off a Catholic priest.

On several occasions, Leclercq ran into Nathan in the basement after practice. The priest would jump on the teenager, knocking him onto the wrestling mats and grinding his groin into him—all while accusing him of smoking cigarettes. Leclercq also followed Nathan home a few times. “He came in the house and would sit there and eat popcorn and watch TV with me and my family,” Nathan remembers. “I was totally embarrassed, and I was in awe. I had no idea that he was going to follow me home.”

When the Attorney General began investigating in August 2018, Leclercq’s name did not appear on the Diocese of Peoria’s public list of clerics with substantiated allegations of child sex abuse. Two months later, however, the diocese apparently stumbled across additional documents that caused it to reconsider. One of these documents was a November 1991 memo from the vicar general referencing a 1985 “offense” committed by Leclercq. The memo insists Leclercq is now “free from his former difficulty.”

When the diocese contacted Leclercq in October 2018 to discuss this recent discovery, the priest responded, “I was wondering when you were going to call me about this.” Leclercq then admitted to fondling a 16 year old boy at his apartment in 1985. He explained the boy reported the abuse to the police, who called him to the station along with the future Bishop Myers (then serving as vicar general). Leclercq admitted nothing was done about the incident; he did not receive a psychological evaluation, and the diocese simply transferred him to a new assignment in Creve Coeur. Leclercq also confessed to abusing another boy—and to hosting many young men in his apartment.

Leclercq’s case evidences several troubling missteps by the diocese. It didn’t adequately respond to the 1985 abuse by removing Leclercq from ministry. It didn’t adequately document the incident—and didn’t keep track of the limited documentation that did exist. And Bishop Myers’ problematic involvement in keeping Leclercq’s abuse under wraps raises concerns about how he may have handled additional allegations of child sex abuse that came to light during the decade he would spend at the diocese’s helm in the 1990s.

As for Nathan, he has had difficulty coming to grips with the abuse he experienced at the hands of both priests. He is keenly aware the diocese moved his abusers to other parishes. And while he struggles with the nightmares, the sleepless nights, and the prospect of forgiveness, the diocese’s own records show his two abusers were in ministry long after the diocese knew or should have known they were predator priests.

See details for M. Duane Leclercq

See details for William Harbert

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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.*