The Joliet Diocese removed four more priests from the public ministry, including the pastors of two churches in Itasca and Elmhurst.
Parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Itasca and Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Elmhurst were informed during Sunday Mass that their pastors have been accused of sexual misconduct by the Diocesan Review Committee.
The Rev. Donald Pock of St. Peter’s was placed on administrative leave last week, while the Rev. John F. Barrett of Mary Queen of Heaven was placed on temporary administrative leave also last week.
“We want to make sure there are no children at risk,” Sister Judith Davies, spokeswoman for the Joliet Diocese, said Sunday.
The Joliet Diocese has not released the age of the victims in each of the cases.
Sunday’s announcement brought the number of priests with connections to the Joliet diocese who have been accused of sexual impropriety to eight.
Davies said the allegations against Pock, which surfaced about a month ago, concerned events that happened more than 25 years ago. Since the claims against him were confirmed, he will not be returning to the ministry, she said. She did not know who would be replacing him in the parish.
The claims against Barrett concerned allegations of events that happened more than 30 years ago and first surfaced in 1991. Since nothing was proven at the time, the case remained unresolved, Davies said.
But the case resurfaced in the past week, and Barrett will be kept away from the public ministry until the DuPage County state’s attorney’s office can look into the matter, Davies said.
State’s attorney’s spokeswoman Laura Pollastrini said Sunday the allegations against the two pastors will be investigated thoroughly, but no charges have been filed against either of them. It is unclear whether charges could be filed at all, because the incidents were alleged to have taken place so long ago.
That didn’t comfort the parishioners at the Itasca and Elmhurst churches, who strongly defended their pastors.
“For someone to even insinuate such an accusation, I don’t know how there could possibly be any truth to that,” said Lynne Kryger, an Itasca resident and a parishioner at St. Peter’s for more than 20 years.
Kryger’s two children are in sixth and seventh grade at St. Peter’s School. Every year during Lent, she said, Pock buys dozens of rolls of pennies at the bank and scatters them in each classroom for the children to pick up. He tells them a story about pennies from heaven and how it’s lucky to put a penny in their shoe.
Parishioner Bill Hepperle of Itasca said the priest, who has been at St. Peter’s for 15 years, has always spoken against priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct and did an extensive background check on anyone who would be working in the church.
“The safety of kids was one of his utmost concerns,” Hepperle said. “Never, ever have I seen an inappropriate move on his part.”
Mary Queen of Heaven parishioner Fred Tremmel of Elmhurst said he doesn’t think it’s right that the Roman Catholic Church has let these allegations sit for so many years.
“I just wish the church hierarchy would have addressed the issues more forthrightly in the past,” he said.
Tremmel said he has found Barrett to be a dynamic and wonderful priest in the six years he’s been at Mary Queen of Heaven.
“I hope the allegations are not true,” he said. “I’m saddened and shocked, I guess those are the words.”
Two retired priests in the Joliet Diocese also have been restricted from publicly saying Mass.
The Rev. Lowell Fischer, who is now chaplain for retired women at St. Francis Convent in Frankfort, has been accused of incidents that occurred more than 25 years ago.
The Rev. Edward Poff, who retired last June and has been assisting with Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Joliet since then, was accused of sexual misconduct in 1994. He was removed from parish ministry, received therapy and was placed in restricted ministry at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee until his retirement last year.
Davies said the four priests are among the names the Joliet Diocese has decided to turn over to DuPage and Will County prosecutors.
The files date from 1970 to 1994, she said. Cases later than 1994 will be released in the near future.
“This is part of our ongoing commitment to protect children and put victims first,” Davies said.
In addition to the four priests named by the diocese on Sunday, the Rev. Anthony J. Ross, who served in five DuPage parishes before moving to California, is now on administrative leave pending a church investigation. The Rev. Gary Berthiaume has been removed as a chaplain at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. The Rev. Caroll Howlin, a pastor in Kentucky who remained a part of the diocese even after his move, was suspended pending an investigation of sexual misconduct in the 1970s. And the Rev. Phillip Dedera has been removed as a chaplain at Edward Hospital in Naperville.