Joliet diocese agrees to $1.4M settlement in priest abuse case
JOLIET, Ill. — A suburban Chicago Catholic diocese has agreed to pay $1.4 million to settle a lawsuit filed by three men who say they were molested by their priest when they were boys.
The three men, who requested anonymity, say they were repeatedly abused by Father Leonard Mateo of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet between 1980 and 1982. They were all under the age of 11. They made the allegations against Mateo in 2014.
Announcing the settlement Thursday, plaintiffs’ attorneys said Bishop Joseph Imesch admitted in a deposition that priests with credible sexual abuse allegations were allowed to continue ministry within the Diocese of Joliet without any warning to parishioners.
“This is a priest who was continuously moved from one parish to the next upon allegations of sexual misconduct, normalizing his sexual abuse of children and dispelling any notion it was wrong,” attorney Antonio M. Romanucci said.
The settlement reached in Will County Circuit Court will be distributed between the plaintiffs.
Diocese spokesman Edward Flavin said Mateo left the diocese in 1984 and died in 2004. Imesch died in 2015.
Imesch became Joliet’s third bishop in 1979 and remained in the post until his retirement in 2006. His tenure became tarnished when he was accused of failing to report numerous allegations of abuse by priests to authorities. During his last years as bishop, Imesch and diocese attorneys fought to keep sex abuse files under wraps.
Andrew Touhy, a spokesman for the law firm representing the plaintiffs, said reaching a settlement with the diocese was difficult, noting that attorneys for the diocese claimed the lawsuit was invalid because of the statute of limitations. In July, Judge Matthew Bertani rejected a diocese motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
According to the Joliet Diocese, substantiated or credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors have been made against 35 diocesan priests since 1986. Most have been removed from ministry. Others have died.
The diocese was recently forced to remove two retired priests accused of sexual misconduct from a suburban Chicago retirement facility adjacent to a junior high school.
The Revs. James Nowak, 81, and Richard Jacklin, 67, resided at the St. John Vianney Villa outside Chicago until neighbors, school officials and parents raised concerns about the retirement home’s proximity to Kennedy Junior High School in Lisle.
Illinois State Police arrested Jacklin on Oct. 31, 2017. He was accused of assaulting a resident at Shapiro Developmental Center in Kankakee and has been charged with criminal sexual assault by force and sexual misconduct on a person with a disability. Jacklin’s next court date is Oct. 4.
Nowak was ordained in May 1976 and removed from ministry in 2012.