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Parishioners Incredulous of Abuse Accusations

Apr 19, 2002 | Chicago Daily Herald

The Rev. Anthony Ross transferred to Bloomingdale's St. Isidore Catholic Church in 1989. His mission: Help the parish heal after its priest had been accused of child molestation.

Those same parishioners were stunned this week when the Joliet Diocese announced it was investigating Ross on allegations he abused a teenage boy in 1983.

Ross, now assigned to a diocese in California, has been placed on administrative leave pending a church investigation. The boy's parents are demanding Ross no longer be allowed to minister, church officials said.

News that Ross was the fourth priest this month with ties to the Joliet Diocese to be accused of sexual impropriety seemed to belie the reputation he built up while ministering in DuPage County.

"Father Tony was a very nice man, a hard worker that put all he had into the church during his short time there," said Bloomingdale Police Chief Gary Schira, a longtime member of St. Isidore.

Ross served five DuPage parishes from the late 1970s until 1993. A Diocese spokeswoman refused to say where the abuse occurred and would not release a time line of Ross' pastoral service.

Various church records, however, indicate he was the head of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lombard when the alleged abuse occurred. He transferred to the church in December 1982, after the previous pastor fell ill.

Sacred Heart officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Ross grew up in Addison, the son of a prominent businessman. His father, Anthony Sr., built many of the homes in town and presided over several local banks.

His devoutly Catholic family produced two priests, Anthony and Richard, who serves at St. Bernard in Joliet. Neither Ross nor his family members could be reached for comment Thursday.

Anthony Ross was assigned to St. John the Baptist Church in Winfield during the late 1970s. He was transferred to Itasca's St. Peter the Apostle in 1979, and served as assistant pastor for three years.

Parishioners still remember him for his jovial nature and his Shar-Pei puppy that became the unofficial church mascot. He enjoyed sharing his fascination with birds, often telling tales about his pets.

"My kids and family talked to him and thought he was a fun guy," parishioner Ed Scoles said. "The kids thought he was cool because he would tell them stories about the birds he kept in the rectory and the minor damage they would do to window sills and things."

Following his stint in Itasca, Ross was transferred to Sacred Heart and then St. Isidore. The Diocese assigned him to the Bloomingdale parish in 1989 after the Rev. Henry Slade was charged with fondling a mentally challenged adolescent boy in the church rectory.

He left St. Isidore after a year and went to St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Bensenville. Upon his arrival, he told parishioners he planned to stay a short time then move to California.

"He told us coming in in about 1990 that he didn't plan to stay long and that he had other missions to follow," said St. Charles parishioner Bob Parson. "So he was here for almost three years and we enjoyed him and his anecdotes."

Ross transferred to California of his own volition in 1993, Santa Rosa Diocese officials said. He has spent the past decade ministering to prisoners and AIDS (news - web sites) patients. He has not been assigned to a parish in the past 10 years.

"We have had no previous knowledge of the emerging allegations and are unaware of any current complaints regarding Father Ross' conduct in this diocese," diocese attorney Dan Galvin said.

No one interviewed Thursday recalled parishioners questioning Ross' behavior or professionalism. Supporters, some of whom haven't spoken with the priest in 20 years, contend his anonymous accuser is unjustly sullying an honest man's reputation.

"It's awful easy to sit there and take the only thing a priest has - which is his good name - and trash it," St. Peter parishioner James Cadell said.

No police reports have been filed against Ross in any of the DuPage communities he served.

"Let's face it, sometimes you can tell certain things, but no one ever gossiped about or questioned Father Tony," Schira said.

DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett declined to say whether his office is investigating Ross. Prosecutors, however, have asked the diocese for all abuse complaints it has received against its priests.

"We expect, and thus far have received, full cooperation from the diocese," Birkett said.

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