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Accused Priest Requests A Leave Of Absence

Jul 15, 2002 | The Daily Herald

Cardinal Francis George is expected to make a decision this week on a Round Lake pastor's request for a temporary leave of absence so he can fight allegations that he sexually abused two girls more than 30 years ago.

The Rev. Raymond Skriba, 70, pastor of St. Joseph Church, is accused of abusing two minor girls while he was associate pastor at St. Gertrude parish in Franklin Park nearly 40 years ago.

The announcement of his request for a leave was made during weekend Mass by Bishop Jerome Listecki, who read a letter from Skriba to his parishioners.

"My concern for the well-being of this wonderful parish and the need to devote all my energies toward proving my innocence of any wrongdoing, prompt me now to choose the following course of action," wrote Skriba, who could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Skriba has been pastor at St. Joseph's since 1984. His leave would be for an "indefinite period of time," his letter said.

His leave request must be approved by George, who returns from vacation today, archdiocese spokeswoman Mary McDonough said.

The archdiocese panel that investigates such allegations, the Fitness Review Board, has forwarded a recommendation on Skriba's case but George has not yet made a decision, she said. She declined to say what the panel recommended.

"Essentially on July 9, the review board concluded its first stage review regarding the two allegations the archdiocese had received against Father Skriba," McDonough said.

The board's recommendation could be either to remove Skriba from ministry or to let him remain.

"Until the cardinal receives that recommendation and makes a decision regarding it, and until the persons alleging the misconduct, the priest accused, and the parishioners most involved are informed of the cardinal's decision, no additional information will be provided," McDonough said.

It is unclear whether the cardinal has seen either the review board's recommendation or Skriba's letter requesting a leave of absence.

"I know he hasn't acted on either," McDonough said. A decision is expected early this week.

A group of victims of clerical sexual abuse was quick to criticize Skriba and church officials, saying the priest's move out of the parish comes three months late and charging that the archdiocese is taking far too long to investigate.

"He should have done that 90 days ago," said Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, referring to when the initial complaint was filed by the first victim in April. "The review board has taken way too long."

One of the women making the allegations added that she believes the archdiocese is intentionally dragging its feet on the case.

"I've just been so bewildered about how the archdiocese has not handled this," said the 52-year-old woman. She says Skriba abused her when she was 14 years old.

She said she thinks Skriba's request is a ploy to maintain his reputation.

Blaine says the archdiocese's policy is to convene an inquiry into such allegations within five days of the time they are made and to remove the priest pending the investigation. Neither was done in this case, she said.

In the meantime, Round Lake parishioners may not see Skriba performing his usual duties.

"Whatever happens for the future of the parish, Bishop Listecki would work with the cardinal and the associate pastor at St. Joseph to make sure the pastoral needs of the parish are met," McDonough said. "Beyond that, I think it's premature to state what might occur."

Jerome E. Listecki is the vicar for Lake County and other areas and is pastor of St. Ignatius Parish in Chicago.

Since the allegations against Skriba were made public, it has been a painful and confusing time for parishioners.

Blaine said she thinks the way the archdiocese has handled the matter will have a detrimental impact on the church community.

"It's created a hostile environment where I believe victims would not feel safe to come forward," Blaine said. "That's why he should have been removed immediately."

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