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Former Loyola Student Sues, Alleges Abuse

Nov 27, 2003 | Pioneer Press Online The religious order that runs Loyola Academy in Wilmette is facing another lawsuit this week from a former student who claims he was molested by a priest teaching at the school in the 1960s.

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court Nov. 19 against the Jesuits' Chicago Province, alleges that the the Rev. Wilton Skiffington repeatedly abused the boy at the school starting in 1962. Lou Franchi, now 57, became the third former student to file suit since August over alleged abuse at the high school.

Skiffington, who worked for a decade as an English and religion teacher and spiritual counselor at Loyola, died in 1988. Two other complaints involving past Loyola teachers involve the Rev. Donald McGuire, who has been suspended from public ministry pending an investigation.

Franchi said he has been struggling with memories of the abuse for decades and decided to pursue legal action after learning of the previous lawsuits. He said steps the Catholic Church has taken on its own in recent years do not go far enough to uproot a culture of abuse that he said has been documented for more than 1,000 years.

"I did not want to stand alone. When the others stood forward, now I can. With actions like this, they will be forced to make the changes required, at least in the U.S.," Franchi said.

Franchi said his memories of the abuse are incomplete, but said he became aware of an explicit letter Skiffington wrote to him in 1964. His parents discovered the letter and turned it over to Skiffington's superiors. The priest was soon transferred to a parish in San Diego, but sent Franchi a postcard after his move.

The Rev. James P. Gschwend, the delegate for conduct inquiries for the Jesuits' Chicago Province, said the order learned of the case in late October and attempted to reach out to the accuser. "Though limited at the present time through litigation, we hope in the future to be able to offer pastoral care in an effort to help the accuser heal," Gschwend said in a statement.

Officials at Loyola Academy said they will continue to cooperate with any investigation.

The lawsuits involving former Jesuit teachers at the school involve alleged incidents at least 30 years old, but also maintain that officials worked to conceal incidents after they became aware of them.

An attorney representing Franchi, said issues remain despite Skiffington's death. One goal "is to make sure anyone else harmed by that perpetrator can come forward without suffering in secrecy or shame," Pearlman said. "The goal with respect to prevention and accountability on the part of the Jesuits is not diminished at all."

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