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Diocese In Dark Until Arrest

Catholic Officials Say They’ll Wait Until A Verdict Is Rendered in Mark Campobello’s Case before beginning an inquiry

Dec 5, 2002 | Rockford Register Star

The arrest of a Belvidere priest Tuesday was a surprise for officials in the Catholic Diocese of Rockford. They didn’t know that the Rev. Mark Campobello was under investigation.

“I don’t have many details because I have not been thoroughly briefed,†Bishop Thomas Doran said Wednesday at a previously scheduled media luncheon.

Doran relieved Campobello, 37, of his duties at St. James Parish after the priest was arrested on five counts each of criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse. The charges stem from a one-month investigation by Geneva police on allegations that he abused a 14-year-old girl between January and May 1999.

Campobello’s removal is in line with the diocese’s sexual misconduct policy, which also calls for cooperation with civil authorities and an internal church investigation.

The arrest is the latest local incident in a scandal that has led to the removal of 300 Catholic priests since January. The Campobello case differs from others revealed locally because Campobello is young and was in active ministry. Plus, the allegations are fairly recent, and the alleged victim is female rather than male.

A difference between the previously reported cases and Campobello’s is the arrest.

Geneva police began their investigation Oct. 22, when they received a phone call from an attorney representing the accuser, who is 18. The alleged abuse occurred while Campobello was assistant principal at Aurora Central Catholic High School and living at St. Peter Church in Geneva.

Neither Geneva police nor the Kane County state’s attorney’s office would release details on the alleged abuse or the name of the victim’s attorney.

“We’re not going to arbitrarily release the attorney’s name or the victims,†said Lt. Joe Frega. “If they want to come forward publicly with details, they are free to do that.â€

Frega also confirmed that investigators did not contact officials at the Rockford Diocese before the arrest. “We would not do that until we had the case solid.â€

Campobello, released on $75,000 bail, is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 9 in Kane County.

Rockford church officials will give investigators any information they need, but the diocese will not launch an investigation into Campobello until after the criminal case is completed.

“After a verdict has been reached, then we will investigate, but I don’t want to comment and prejudice whatever the defense might be,†Doran said.

Three weeks ago, U.S. bishops approved a revised policy for dealing with sexually abusive priests. The new rules don’t go into effect until the Vatican approves them, which is expected by the end of the year.

Instead, the Rockford Diocese will operate under its own policy, which is in some ways tougher than the national one. Both policies require cooperation with police and removal of priests accused of the sexual abuse of minors, but the national policy limits the statute of limitations for allegations and allows accused priests to use a church tribunal to fight charges.

Local Catholics will be embarrassed and saddened by the latest allegations of abuse, but this provides an opportunity to show that church policy works, said retired Judge John Rapp of Mount Carroll, who heads the diocese’s sexual misconduct review board.

“We’re dealing with the problems in an orderly fashion. It’s not being swept under the rug,†he said.

Church policy

Here are highlights of a sexual abuse policy approved by U.S. Catholic bishops in November. The policy is awaiting approval from the Vatican:

Bishops or their staffs to report immediately an allegation of abuse to civil authorities, to notify a lay review board and the accused priest. The priest would be on administrative leave until it is established whether an allegation is credible.

Priests who admit abuse must be permanently removed from ministry no priestly title or garb or role in offering sacraments. If a priest refuses to cooperate or appears to be a danger to others, the bishop can appeal to the pope to have him laicized, or returned to the status of a layman.

If a priest proclaims innocence, he is entitled to trial by a church tribunal, an investigative panel led by church legal specialists who would take testimony and rule on whether the charge is true. There might be regional tribunals set up rather than one for each of the 194 dioceses. Priests can appeal the verdict to the Vatican.

If the alleged victim is older than 28, the church’s statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse of a minor, the bishop is required to seek a waiver from the Vatican to hold the tribunal.

The bishop always can refuse to give a priest any assignment.

Other cases

May: Bishop Thomas Doran said the Rockford Diocese removed the Rev. Harlan Clapsaddle from a Dixon church in 1997 after Kevin Misslich and his two brothers accused him of abuse. The three brothers accused the priest of abusing them when they were children in the late 1970s. Clapsaddle was relieved of all ministerial duties in May, when the Missliches went public with their accusations. The priest moved to Florida and receives financial support from the Rockford Diocese.

June: Two men made sexual abuse allegations against the Rev. Ted Feely, who served at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Rockford. Feely, a Franciscan, went to California in 1972 and was there until his death in 1991. Feely served at St. Anthony at the time it was operated by the Franciscan friars of the Province of St. Bonaventure, Chicago. Because of that, the Rockford Diocese was not involved in the inquiry or any follow-up. St. Anthony property has since become part of the diocese.

August: Former Rockford-area resident Ronald J. Zaha of Scottsdale, Ariz., said the Rev. James Gaynor repeatedly abused him from 1963 to 1965, when he was 4 and 5 years old and Gaynor was a priest at the family’s home parish, St. Rita of Cassia in Aurora. When Zaha went to diocesan officials in September 2000 with his allegations, Monsignor David Kagan informed him that the priest died of AIDS in 1991.

September: Allegations surfaced against a second priest who served at St. Anthony of Padua. The Rev. Edwin Banach died in 1984. He was investigated by the Franciscan friars, who operated St. Anthony from 1963 to 1970, when the sexual misconduct against two boys allegedly occurred.

December: The Rev. Mark Campobello is removed from duties at St. James Parish in Belvidere after his arrest on charges of criminal sexual assault and criminal sexual abuse. He is accused of abusing a girl between January and May 1999 in Geneva.


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