Newly released court documents show that a bishop who said Boston Cardinal Bernard Law should resign over his handling of priests accused of sexual abuse had also reassigned an accused priest to a new parish.
Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch was believed to be the first Roman Catholic bishop to publicly suggest Law step down since January, when Law acknowledged reassigning a priest accused of molesting children.
That admission by Law and the sentencing of former Boston-area priest John Geoghan to up to 10 years in prison fueled a crisis that has consumed the church and put Roman Catholic bishops across the country under scrutiny.
On Thursday, Imesch said he regretted the statement he made during an interview at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ conference in Dallas. “It was probably not good judgment on my part to say that,” he told The Associated Press.
The documents unsealed Friday involve the Rev. Lawrence Gibbs, who was accused of sexual misconduct at Christ the King Catholic Church in the Chicago suburb of Lombard in 1980. The parish is within the Diocese of Joliet, where Imesch has been bishop since 1979.
Sister Judith Davies, chancellor for the Diocese of Joliet, said civil authorities investigated but could not prove the allegations, and Gibbs was never charged.
The same year, Gibbs was moved to St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lockport, where he allegedly victimized other boys. One of them sued the diocese in 1993, and the diocese settled the lawsuit in 1998.
Imesch said in a statement Friday that he supported the court’s decision to unseal the documents.
“We are fully cooperating with civil authorities with the goal of resolving these past allegations, prosecuting any criminal activity and acting compassionately and fairly toward victims of sexual abuse,” he said.
The documents, from the 1993 lawsuit, were ordered sealed because they contained sensitive information about the sexual abuse of minors. They were unsealed this past week on First Amendment grounds. The names of the victims remain sealed.
Gibbs left the priesthood in the 1990s, married and is now a social worker living in St. Louis with his wife and three young children, his wife told the Chicago Tribune on Friday.