Timothy Nockels remembers reading about victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston while commuting to his job as a Chicago futures analyst.
”I remember reading that stuff on the train and feeling really sorry for them,” Nockels said. ”I refused to acknowledge that I was one of them.”
But more recent events in his life getting married, learning he was to be a father prompted Nockels, 36, to report childhood abuse he alleges he experienced, in hopes of protecting other children.
The result was the removal Friday of the Rev. John Baptist Ormechea as pastor of St. Agnes Church in Louisville over allegations that he sexually abused Nockels and three other boys between 1978 and 1981 at Immaculate Conception parish in northwest Chicago.
The action stunned people in the 3,650-member St. Agnes parish, where Ormechea, 65, has served since 1992. Parishioners expressed disbelief and some worried that their children may have been placed at risk, said Glenn Kosse, president of the parish council.
No allegations have been made in Louisville against Ormechea, who also served at St. Agnes as an associate pastor from 1969 to 1974. ”We hope to God it didn’t happen here,” Kosse said.
In between assignments at St. Agnes, Ormechea served as pastor at Immaculate Conception in Chicago.
Ormechea left Louisville Friday and has not been available for comment.
Some at St. Agnes raised questions about Ormechea’s 1993 leave of absence from the parish and learned this weekend that the priest was sent for an outside evaluation after a family from Chicago alleged that their son had been sexually abused by Ormechea at an earlier date.
The Rev. Michael Higgins, the provincial, or leader, of the Chicago-based Passionists religious order, which operates St. Agnes, said that he met with parishioners this weekend after services during which he announced Ormechea’s removal. Some wanted more details about Ormechea’s unexplained leave in 1993.
”They raised the question, certainly,” Higgins said.
Higgins said Ormechea emphatically denied that allegation and that the family dropped it. An assessment by the St. Luke Institute, a nationally known treatment center in Silver Spring, Md., found no evidence that Ormechea posed a risk to children and he was returned to work at St. Agnes, Higgins said.
Kosse said he was satisfied with Higgins’ account of how the 1993 allegation was handled. He said he believed most parishioners accepted the explanation that the claim appeared unfounded.
Higgins said Ormechea has been sent to one of the order’s monasteries to live for the next several months while superiors review his case.
Higgins said he doesn’t know what the final outcome will be for Ormechea but he won’t be returned to any ministry. Higgins said he hasn’t discussed the matter with Ormechea since he met with him Friday in Louisville to inform him of the abuse allegations and request his resignation as pastor of St. Agnes.
Meanwhile, the parish is trying to pull together after the loss of the popular priest known as ”Father J.B.” as Christmas approaches, Kosse said.
”Father J.B. was much loved,” Kosse said. ”It’s tragic and deeply sad but we’ll move on.”
Parishioner Jim Wayne said that he believes that as some parishioners absorb the news, they are recognizing the need for lay people to have a greater voice in the church.
”We have to be stronger in faith and have to work harder as lay people and not just rely on the clergy to lead us,” said Wayne, a state representative from Louisville.
Wayne said he is a friend of Ormechea’s and likes and respects the priest but supports the decision of Higgins and Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly that Ormechea had to be removed.
”Even though we don’t know whether he’s innocent or not the church cannot take any risk, and I think that’s very wise,” Wayne said. ”I think they acted very quickly to pull him out.”
Church officials removed Ormechea Friday, a day after they received a report from prosecutors in Illinois who investigated allegations by Nockels and three other men. Prosecutors said they couldn’t pursue criminal charges because the statute of limitations has expired.
Nockels and his sister, Joan Wilson, a lawyer in Anchorage, Alaska, said they are relieved that Ormechea has been removed but want more information, especially about any past allegations the Passionists may have had about Ormechea.
Wilson has been working with her brother since he first sought her advice earlier this year about how to report the abuse that he said occurred when he was 11 or 12 and in the sixth or seventh grade.
Higgins said the only previous allegation he knows of against Ormechea is the one from 1993.
Wilson said she and her brother will pursue the matter.
They have contacted another lawyer and Nockels probably will file suit over the alleged abuse, partly in an effort to get more information about Ormechea, she said.
The family also was shocked to discover the statute of limitations for such offenses has expired in Illinois. Nockels reported his allegations to prosecutors in the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, who investigated but determined that it was too late to prosecute Ormechea.
Illinois officials shared the results of the investigation with prosecutors in Jefferson County. First Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Harry Rothgerber said the Illinois prosecutors, who interviewed three other men who alleged Ormechea had abused them as boys, found the allegations credible and would have prosecuted if the statute of limitations had not expired.
Kentucky has no statute of limitations on felony sex offenses. Three priests are currently under indictment on charges of sexual abuse, including the Rev. Louis Miller, who faces allegations going back to the 1960s.
Nockels and his family intend to lobby to get the Illinois law changed to extend the statute of limitations for sex offenses. Their parents, who still live in the family home in northwest Chicago, support their efforts, Wilson said.
Wilson and Nockels described their childhood neighborhood as a closeknit community of police and firefighters. Nearly everyone in the neighborhood was Catholic and belonged to the local parish, they said.
”We played kickball in the streets, we played in the alleys, we sat on porches,” Wilson said. ”We thought we were safe.”
Nockels said he thought he was safe — until his childhood was marred by the alleged abuse. Now, after reporting the allegations, he said, ”It feels better for me.”
”I almost feel 15,” he said. ”It gave me a piece of my childhood back.”