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Survivor Narratives

William I. Joffe

Father William Joffe made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In October 1991, he pleaded guilty in a Wisconsin federal court to two counts of bank fraud and one count of interstate transportation of a fraudulent check. His crime was diverting more than $260,000 in funds belonging to Saint Joseph in Harvard, where he had been assigned as a pastor from 1983 to 1987. The Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the ordeal revealed that some parishioners were not surprised by Joffe’s wrongdoing; he had been involved in several failed business ventures (including a horse farm, resort, and restaurant) and, according to a lifelong member of the parish, “didn’t act like a priest” but rather “like a businessman.”

After serving a year in prison for his financial fraud, Joffe reemerged as a sacramental priest assigned to Saint Patrick in Amboy. Apparently the Diocese of Rockford concluded he was worthy of a second chance. Only a few months later, however, in August 1993, Joffe was abruptly yanked from the parish. And this landed him back in the headlines.

“Town Bewildered by Priest’s Removal,” the Chicago Sun-Times announced in September 1993. The paper reported that Amboy parishioners were willing “to embrace a somewhat sullied man of the cloth”—and even viewed his arrival as “cause for celebration”—because the town had been left without a priest upon the retirement of the prior pastor. But Joffe’s sudden disappearance left residents facing a “big mystery” and “questions about his forced departure.” And despite repeated overtures, the diocese refused to offer any explanation for Joffe’s removal. “We’ve been left in the dark,” one parishioner told the Sun-Times. “I think at the present time it’s all rumor and innuendo,” Amboy’s mayor added.

What was the diocese keeping under wraps? In early 1993, a survivor came forward to the diocese to report he had been sexually abused by Joffe. The abuse occurred in the late 1960s when Joffe was assigned to Saint Patrick in Dixon—just a few miles away from his assignment in Amboy. In fact, the survivor was prompted to share his experience in part because of the news that Joffe had returned to the area; he said he worried about the safety of relatives who still lived there.

Joffe did not deny sexually abusing the survivor—and the diocese was sufficiently alarmed to refer Joffe for a psychiatric evaluation. In July 1993, Bishop Arthur O’Neill told Joffe to vacate his parish immediately. Yet none of this was revealed to the Amboy parishioners—or those in any of the other parishes to which Joffe had been assigned over his 35 years in the diocese.

The vicar general reasoned that he had “found credible evidence to determine Joffe did engage in sexual misconduct with at least nine minor males in at least three of his former assignments.”

To the contrary, the bishop wrote Joffe a week after he left Amboy concerned about the possibility that Joffe would suffer “public ignominy.” The bishop reminded Joffe that he had “stressed the importance of anonymity and complete confidentiality.” The reason for Bishop O’Neill’s worry was that he had received some “letters of protest” from Amboy parishioners who were “familiar” with the name of Joffe’s “accuser.”

For the next decade, Joffe resided in Kentucky and Florida. He worked as a security guard for a warehouse, among other odd jobs. Several times he asked the diocese to allow him to minister again in another parish; every time, he was refused. Bishop O’Neill explained in November 1993 that “the serious allegations against” Joffe made it “impossible for [him] to have an assignment in the Diocese” or elsewhere. And Bishop Thomas Doran explained again in September 1995 that it “is best for the Diocese that you not return and resume priestly ministry here.” Several times, the diocese suggested to Joffe that he might consider applying for laicization.

In March 2002, another survivor came forward to the diocese. He reported that Joffe sexually abused him in the early 1970s when he was a freshman at Newman Central Catholic High School in Sterling and Joffe was the school’s director of religious education. And then in March 2004, two additional survivors reported to the diocese that Joffe had sexually abused them. In both instances, the abuse occurred while Joffe was the pastor at Saint Mary in Woodstock; he abused one of the survivors in 1979 and the other in 1983.

It was only at this point that the diocese decided to alert the public. A press release was issued in June 2004 describing the four incidents of sexual abuse by Joffe that had been reported to the diocese over the past 11 years. The diocese noted that it did not have any additional information to “support or refute the allegations.” Nevertheless, Bishop Doran determined the allegations should be made public “in the interests of openness and transparency.”

The press release wound up serving an extremely important purpose—it prompted five additional survivors to come forward to the diocese in July 2004 to report they had been sexually abused by Joffe. The abuse occurred from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s at Saint Patrick in Dixon and Saint Mary in Woodstock. The vicar general reported to the bishop in August 2004 that the allegations by each of the nine survivors who had come forward by that point “can be considered accurate” and “have merit.” The vicar general reasoned that he had “found credible evidence to determine Joffe did engage in sexual misconduct with at least nine minor males in at least three of his former assignments.” Joffe’s “imputability” is “reasonably established,” the vicar general concluded.

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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.*