Concerns raised over former Back of the Yards priest

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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests is calling Francis Cardinal George to address concerns about a priest who used to serve in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Father Bruce Wellems is a widely admired Claretian missionary priest.

SNAP obtained documents detailing his abrupt resignation from a California mission.

In a written press release, Claretian spokespeople acknowledge the decision pointing to inappropriate conduct with a fellow minor when Bellems himself was a youth.

The Chicago Archdiocese says Cardinal George will not be commenting on the case because Wellems has no faculties as a priest within the Chicago Archdiocese.

Bellems issued a statement to WGN saying, in part, "I have never, ever touched a child of any age in an inappropriate or sexual manner. ... I believe now as I have believed always as an adult, that child abuse is an evil that must be eradicated. ... the accusations or inferences made by SNAP today have no factual basis. There is no cover-up of pedophilia, or any type of child abuse that involves me in my years as a priest."

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48 comments

  • david clohessy

    Cardinal George is splitting hairs. He’s responsible for the safety of all Catholics within his archdiocese, no matter which Catholic entity signs their paychecks. So does this mean he welcomes any predatory Jesuit or Marianist into the Chicago area, as long as they don’t officially perform services here? Shame on him. David Clohessy, SNAP, 314 566 9790

    • Brigitte

      David, can you please clarify which predatory Jesuit or Marianist you’re talking about? Please read the documents, ask better questions, and listen to the responses you get when you ask those questions. The letter talks about an incident with a minor while a minor himself. Sexual exploration as a minor does not prohibit any individual from working with youth as an adult. Throwing garbage at the wall to see if something “comes out” is an interesting tactic. Although I commend your work to protect those abused by priests, you are digging around in the wrong garbage can. Perhaps your work will be more fruitful if you continue to investigate the violations of this priest’s childhood rights to privacy at the hands of Claretian leadership. A minor’s rights have indeed been violated. Fr. Bruce Wellem’s rights.

    • viviana

      Father Bruce, did no such thing…he is a good man, if you know how to read, they have no factual evidence. If you don’t know him and there is no facts shut your face chump.

  • Jessica meller

    This is disgusting. Father Bruce helped many many young men in our neighborhood. How many o young men would be dead or in jail, not aware of their true potential had it not been for him and his conpassion.

    Even so, what happened was when he was a youth himself, stated clearly above. Humans are vicious and are quick to turn against who helped I times of need. If needed myself, my brother, who was mentored by Father Bruce, and all if community members will rally against this filth.

    • esther river

      Well he fooled everyone they thought he was doing good well look at him now in the news. He should be treated like any other sex offender. No matter what he did for the community how many more kids did he do that too.Only those kids who he abuse know and are scared or ashamed of what he did too them. If it was your child you would be mad. Be mad that he fooled all of yous out there.

      • Marco Lopez

        The integrity and transparency by which Fr. Bruce has lived while serving as a priest in our community has been admirable and exemplary. I know this may be difficult to understand for those who live without hope and unfortunately stuck in their own pain (perhaps of being abused) but people do change; especially as they struggle (as so many of have) through some of the darkness of our adolescent years into the light of discovering who God has intended us to be. Those closest to Fr. Bruce have been fully aware of some of his limitations and history as he has been aware of ours. Here in lies one of the secrets to his success in the Back of the Yards. He fully understands what it is like to be given a second chance and what the human spirit can accomplish when you find encouragement and support. Countless of young and old have found this in Fr. Bruce and have experience being able to move out of their darkness into light. If you have been hurt by an individual or by the institutional hierarchy of the church, keep fighting but don’r drag into the mud a man who has confronted the darkness of his own past and lived in the light of truth as a faithful servant of the Lord for the entirety of his adult life.

      • Samuel Ortiz

        Esther River. do you know father bruce? have you ever met him in person? you are just an ignorant person that probably doesnt know who he is. I have been knowing father bruce for more than three years and personally. he has never abused of anyone. on the contrary he has done good things to help change the lives of so many youth as well as me. because of him i am a positive hard working adult. shame on the negative comments

      • Samuel Ortiz

        Esther. with all due respect the negative comments you and the others are posting are ignorant. You as well as the others probably dont know father bruce. have never met him. Just because you see a post about a priest abusing of someone you righ away think it is true. I have been knowing bruce for more than three years he was and still is a big impact in my life. because of him i am the person i am today.

    • Angie Kolacinski

      Jessica, you and many others here feel and believe the same. Comments here criticizing Fr Bruce are from people who dont know him. This community doesnt deserve to be put down by others who think we dont know who we can trust.

    • mimimi

      I was not surprised to learn about father Bruce and his “inclinations”. I DO know him, and I am a female who worked at the rectory in Back of the yards, I did not work for them personally, but I made well being visits through (my company) so when I heard this on the news I was disgusted and yet chuckled cuz I knew…. I saw the ignorant sheeple who followed and admired him. The men who would come to confess… Look you (confess) to GOD not a man in a robe. I’m not saying he is an evil person, but all the guys at that rectory where middle aged homosexuals. From the Peruvian guy, to the Argentinian guy and the Dominican dude, who I always saw “together” they all creeped me out and would always try to “convert” me when I made my visits. I saw women in the community who had no job and came for handouts. I saw what really goes on with the counting of the money, all these “positive” things that he did for the screwed up male youth, he did it with (YOUR) money:) As a parent knowing what goes on, I would not entrust any man with my son. But when people are brainwashed and manipulated by Priests who cater to their community, they will defend the sickest of people, just cuz he gave them a smile-pathetic. Plus I will say that Father Bruce, is quite arrogant, and I have eaten at the table with him and had a few interactions with him, and see how he really is-not what he shows to his parishioners. These Catholic Priests (know) that their sheeple will follow them anywhere. Pilsen is the same way. This is my last post on the issue I don’t respond to trolls who defend this man so blindly and try to battle me online-not my style. I just wanted to share my opinion/experience. And the people supporting him are the same ones who’ve received material things and handouts from the ministry- so don’t even front. The Back of the yards neighborhood which unlike other neighborhoods hasn’t evolved for ***t. However, my sincere respect goes out for Father Ruffalo who was part of Claretian ministries and the only one I trusted out of all of them! RIP

      • Just trolling

        Mi mini you must be an idiot and I think I know who you are. RIP Ruffalo he was a mentor to father Bruce and for you to say something like that is dumb clearly you didn’t know Fr. Ruffalo and neither Fr. Bruce but like they say to each it’s own some people are bitter and sounds like your one of them maybe your one of the many people that were looking for a hand out and didn’t get it. I hope you found the help you need or still looking I hope. Troll out! Lol

      • Esperanza1

        You know nothing about the people here. Maybe that is why you are unemployed. I hope when you made your visits that you did nit speak the way you write. I’m glad you are gone . You hide behind mimimi….selfish. trolls do not exist.

  • Kate Bochte

    Excuses, excuses. Once again, Francis George proves he is not serious about protecting children.

    Such abrupt removals, secret communications, and efforts to cover tracks (or emails) smell fishy and where there’s smoke there’s usually fire.

    It can be devastating for parishioners to hear suspicions about their beloved priest, but not nearly as devastating as being a child abused by that (usually very popular) priest.

    • Hope1976

      What kids? The article states “conduct when he was a youth”. Did he think he was going to be a priest when he thought he liked boys? People are different in their teens than they are as adults. Where is the evidence?

  • Theresa Villagomez

    This is really disturbing father Bruce is a really good man and would never ever do something so disgusting to a minor people love to spread rumors that ain’t true and for those of you who beleive this bullshit can go to hell because father Bruce helped a lot of kids and adults in our neighborhood better their lives and do good with themselves

  • anonymous

    To those who are judging Bruce. If you didn’t read or hear it clearly. They clearly said “IT HAPPENED WHEN HE WASN’T EVEN A PRIEST” it was when he didnt even have in mind in being a priest.

    • Bill Stenson

      The victim was 7 years old, while Bruce Wellems was 15 years old. The molestations occurred many times for over a year. The Parishioners assume it was 2 teenagers experimenting. This is not the case. Even at 15, Wellems was a skilled predator.

  • Maynard

    People leaving replies here without knowing the work of this priest really don’t know what they are discussing. The life of this person is a wide open book. The real culprit here, is that the leadership of the church did not even take a moment to talk with the people Fr. Bruce has served for the past 3 deacades. Instead, as they have done with much of the pedophilia mess, their first reaction is to run for cover. In this case, running for cover was to fry Fr. Bruce and claim there is zero tolerance as if that makes them look responsible. In the meantime, we have lost somebody who has transformed neighborhoods, while the leadership of the church continues to support truly awful priests in its parishes from not only the pedophiles but just rotten undeveloped people.. I hope that Fr. Bruce finds a way to continue to serve the many people he has helped.

  • Esperanza1

    SNAP should have conducted a thorough investigation. I have yet to read what facts they gather to taint/destroy someone’s reputation.

  • Rosa mejia

    Father Bruce is an amazing person I can’t believe this crap he did so much for me and my family….and did so much for the community…. Idk how ppl can just turn on someone like this….

  • Evelyn

    I grew up in back of the yards and I’ve grown up seeing this man help the most needed. From my siblings that are 30 years old to me that I’m 19. He’s NEVER EVER said no to someone in need of help, he’s helped the most neglected ,from gangbangers that have tattoos I there face to a young kid like me an.my friends that didn’t know were to turn. He was always active with us and NEVER denied us a helping hand it even a minute to hear our problems. Who ever is saying this needs him more than they think! I grew up at holy cross church till this day and I can personally say that who ever is saying this is mentally stupid! And there ignorance is ridiculous! &if it wasn’t for father Bruce our community of back if the yards wouldn’t be the same.

    • esther river

      Well everyone could believe what they want about Bruce and only he knows what he did when he wad younger. But if he did that when he was younger who you too say he stop doing that.He could of fool everyone he help.People see see what they want as well as hear what they want and believe what they want.Never the less he did it young or older bottom line he did it open your eyes and face the fact .Accept it

      • 4545

        Everything all these people are writting about Bruce that he a great person well think again..He did this when he was young what guarantee did you have he stop doing that. Your problem is he fooled all of yous.He supposedly did good to cover up the bad.He should be treated like all the other sex offenders. He is not special. That why he left and it caught up with him.Now he popular made the news.Even from out of state.

      • Cry me a River

        Esther, you are a bonified idiot and I say that as a compliment. I don’t know who you are and quite frankly don’t care. Your opinion is meaningless and you obviously don’t care for the facts. Do me a favor and get off of your computer and do something meaningful with your life. I wish you would even try to walk the streets fr. Bruce walked, seen the suffering he did and still help thousands of young people leave the streets, get scholarships, jobs, go to college, but what do facts matter to people like you?

      • Jennifer Grant

        What is it that he did? I am waiting to hear what he did. If he experimented as a youth with another consenting youth so be it. If people are curious about their sexual preference and identity, does that make them an abuser as an adult? The nonsense written by ignorant people who twists things around to blog. I do not know this man but I can imagine the outrage from the communities he worked with. I looked him up and he worked in the back of the yards for a long time. This is a predominantly Latino community. Those who believe the people there would hush about something so serious have no idea. This is a low income community with high violence but great strides from what I read. Esther you should visit and talk with people rather than hiding behind your blog.

    • 4545

      Cry me a river it doesn’t matter what you call me or think about me I hit a nerve but i see i got my point across cause it got you upset.yea he gonna need lots of prayer so begin.

  • Back of the Yards Guardian

    I wonder why SNAP held their ill prepared conference downtown and not Back o the Yards since they are dragging our neighborhood through the mud. I’m sure we would’ve welcomed them with open arms. Wimps.

    • Michelle

      The media did not come to Back of the Yards, because they’re dismissive and afraid. If anyone did their homework and conducted a proper inquiry into any of this, they’d find that Fr. Bruce is a man of integrity and the residents of Back of the Yards are rarely quiet about anything. We are Back of the Yards and sometimes, our honesty is all we’ve got. I invite SNAP to come to our community and meet Fr. Bruce’s army of supporters. We’re here, we’re organized, and we’re ready.

  • Melissa P.

    People criticizing Father Bruce without know the man is not only shameful, but cruel. I guess that is typical for human behavior. I find this article completely distugsting and unfactual. The work that this man has done in the Back of the Yards is so inspiring and if it wasn’t for him, that community wouldn’t have made the progress that it has thus far! Father Bruce has the most generous heart and I am proud to call him a good friend. Those of you who are criticizing him and have nothing but negative things to say, trying spending just one day with Father Bruce. You will see what an amazing man he is! As for WGN, you just lost another viewer.

  • BOTY resident

    This article sucks. It lacks substance and they can’t even spell right. Looks like someone was in a hurry to get something, anything out against him, even if it meant looking as far back as his youth. For everyone who has been inspired and helped by B. Wellems, don’t let those who don’t know him anger you with their comments. Remember what B. Wellems has taught us, and find a peaceful resolution. Back of the Yards residents: we must come together and be prepared to defend him against people’s fact-less assumptions.

  • Michael Sepulveda

    This comment is to 4545 who obviously hides behind a computer. You must be a perfect human being who has made no mistakes as an adolescent. Having known Fr. Bruce for over 20 years and observed him worked with children, adolescents and gang members. It seems every day we continue to accept NEGATIVE statements of others because we are to afraid to look at ourselves. I agree that time will tell, the truth will come out and those who judge will continue to deny the truth because they cannot accept they were wrong. It is shameful to think but I honestly think someone(internal) gave up the confidential information from his file.. It is amazing how as soon as he left to California these “allegations” were brought up. I am still waiting for “facts” such as legal documents and victims, oh wait they do not exist. The subject is about him being involved as a youth with another youth.

    • Bill Stenson

      The victim was 7 years old, while Bruce Wellems was 15 years old. The molestations occurred many times for over a year. The Parishioners assume it was 2 teenagers experimenting. This is not the case. Even at 15, Wellems was a skilled predator.

  • E. Gonzalez

    Where are “all” the complete facts here, if any? Absolutely the most ludicrous allegations ever! From someone that was born and raised in the Back of the Yards community and has known Father Bruce personally for decades, this is a all just utterly ridiculous…and no it’s not that I want to blind myself to whatever truth or blah, blah, blah! I speak as someone who like the many above that have already commented and have also known Father Bruce Wellems thoroughly throughout the years…this he is being smeared with, is something he has never and would never do to any youth! Unreal, I am most certainly confident time will bring out the truth.

  • Marco L.

    Time to check some facts! 1) On June 22 of this year, The Archdiocese of Los Angeles read a letter at 11 masses at San Gabriel Mission where thousands attend mass on any given Sunday detailing the reasons for Fr. Bruce’s departure. One of the letters in question was sent electronically to every Claretian in the country also explaining the departure (these days we all know that nothing in cyberspace is secret) – hardly the definition of a “quiet removal”. 2) the events of these past 3 months were NOT triggered by any individual bringing forth an accusation but rather by the contents of a private personnel file made public. 3) His removal as pastor of San Gabriel Mission was not a response to some sort of clamor for justice or public outcry but rather as an administrative response to a rather gray area in the “Zero Tolerence” policy of the church; namely does “zero tolerence” apply to the life of a man 12+ years before becoming a priest? 3) A recent trip with “youth” was called into question. While this trip may have been intended for the benefit of youth, it was planned many months ago, most of the minors on this trip were also accompanied by their parents as originally planned, other parents not on the trip were fully aware of Fr. Bruce’s current situation, and others while still young were over the age of 18. I guess painting this as a “Fr, Bruce trip with youth” was more convenient for SNAP’s political agenda.

  • Marco L.

    The integrity and transparency by which Fr. Bruce has lived while serving as a priest in our community has been admirable and exemplary. I know this may be difficult to understand for those who live without hope and unfortunately stuck in their own pain (perhaps of being abused) but people do change; especially as they struggle (as so many of have) through some of the darkness of our adolescent years into the light of discovering who God has intended us to be. Those closest to Fr. Bruce have been fully aware of some of his limitations and history as he has been aware of ours. Here in lies one of the secrets to his success in the Back of the Yards. He fully understands what it is like to be given a second chance and what the human spirit can accomplish when you find encouragement and support. Countless of young and old have found this in Fr. Bruce and have experience being able to move out of their darkness into light. If you have been hurt by an individual or by the institutional hierarchy of the church, keep fighting but don’r drag into the mud a man who has confronted the darkness of his own past and lived in the light of truth as a faithful servant of the Lord for the entirety of his adult life.

  • Irritated in BOTY

    Oh Jimmy! Thank you so much for your thoughts! Your speculation about an individual’s sexuality is just the perspective an issue like this needs in order to help everyone maintain a sense of clarity on the real issues. First of all, who cares what you’ve always thought? You have magical gaydar gifts that help you determine sexuality… Wonderful. Secondly, what does sexuality have to do with this? SNAPs issues are about ‘abuse’ of minors by priests. Right SNAP? People who lead straight lives are capable of abusing children. Conversely, people who are gay are not automatically pedophiles.

    The inquisition SNAP has called for is based on their strategy of looking for abuse cover-ups, exposing them, then hoping that others will come forward so justice can be served. Not a bad strategy. It has helped a lot of victims and made the church more accountable for the actions of abusive priests. This is not such a case, though. SNAP has failed to follow a logical path, and has now crossed a line where they’ve violated the rights of two minors themselves. The so-called ‘smoking gun’ letter(s) they got a hold of is no smoking gun at all.

    The letters were written by an irresponsible and incompetent Provincial from within the Claretians. He mass-emailed information from a man’s childhood and ultimately shared it with the world. His signature is on the letter that was read to 11 masses on June 2nd at the San Gabriel Mission. The letter they showed on the news did not implicate abuse of a priest towards a minor. This Provincial, Fr. Rosendo Urrabazo, should be removed. His faculties should be removed. He should issue a statement of apology and admission of incompetency immediately.

    SNAP made a statement that this same Provincial actually has a long history of hiding abuse. I believe SNAP should begin to look into why this Provincial hid so many others, but chose this to email to the world. Why didn’t he hide it? That’s what he does, right? Fr. Rosendo Urrabazo hides abuse. Then one morning he woke up and emailed hundreds of people and sent private personnel files about a man’s childhood to Los Angeles. No one finds this strange? No one finds it strange that the Provincial has a history of hiding ACTUAL priest abuse, but then shares openly with hundreds of people about a case that clearly has nothing to do with priest abuse? No one is questioning the motives of Fr. Rosendo Urrabazo? Something stinks here.

    Back to you, Jimmy.

    Jimmy5X, did you have experiences in your childhood that helped mold you into the fine, upstanding, ethical, tolerant individual you seem to be today? Were they all good experiences? If so, then I’m happy for you. Many of us would admit that our whole selves are the sum of all the experiences we’ve encountered in life – the good ones and the painful ones. To say that a priest who had one experience as a young child means he is gay, or that he “must” have had multiple encounters, or that he has become a pedophile is outrageous and takes huge liberties with any logical thinking.

    Again, thank you for your insight, Jimmy. It was intelligent. It was logical. And it mattered. You caught that, right Jimmy5x? That was sarcasm.

  • Alberto Padilla

    I’m sorry to say this esther river but you are wrong about fr.Bruce I know him more then 20 yrs I seen and I work with him in so many occasions he has help me so much in the back of the yards neighborhood I was in the bad path that I nearly die or in jail and he help me so much I got involved in the children choirs and play the marimba if it wasnt for bruce I wouldn’t be here and bruce been working with the kids for so many years with the family and friends and the community and plus fr. Bruce is a busy man working with the imigrants, gangs and school so he is a leader and a father figure for all the community get to now him talk to him and listen what he has to says so dont judge anybody without nowing him and talking to him in person

  • The Way

    Father Rezendo Urrabazo what were you thinking? Were you thinking when you made public personal information from Father Bruce Wellems’ juvenile file? Information given in confidence by him to the Claretians over a decade before taking Holy Orders. That would have been the time to bar him from the priesthood, if that was going to be an issue. Not 30 years later when he has devoted his life to doing the work of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. The fact is, the Claretians supported Bruce Wellems and nurtured his vocation. Father Bruce has been and continues to be true to his vows. He has enriched the lives of the multitudes in the Back of the Yards. Father Bruce has been true to the way to salvation as written by San Antonio Maria Claret. Father Rezendo please examine your conscience, admit your error in judgement.

  • George Tafelski

    Note to WGN. It’s “Wellems” not “Bellems”. Such a serious charge at least deserves getting the name right. I knew Fr Bruce when he was the pastor at HC and until more substantial evidence is presented I believe him rather than anonymous charges from SNAP.