For four years, the Rev. Richard “Doc” Bartz celebrated Mass at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Wauconda and led funeral and wedding ceremonies.
He was known by some long-time parishioners as a dependable, respected, even well-loved priest.
Now, those same parishioners are stunned at recently announced allegations of sexual misconduct against the former associate pastor.
“This is just a shocker to me,” said Rosemary Mers, a community activist and long-time parishioner. “Doc Bartz was a wonderful guy, very well-liked by our family. He said funeral services and eulogies for my mother-in-law when she died back in 1980.”
For some parishioners, the news was a double-whammy. Another former associate pastor, the Rev. James Ray, has also been yanked from his ministry duties by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Bartz and Ray are among eight priests who faced allegations of sexual misconduct in the past and are being re-evaluated under a new national child sex-abuse standard recently adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas.
Bartz, now 53, served Transfiguration Catholic Church from 1979 through 1983. Before that, he worked at Ascension Catholic Church in Oak Park.
Ray, also 53, was at Transfiguration from 1989 to November 1991.
Archdiocese officials say the current allegations do not involve any Transfiguration parishioners.
Still, the news has drawn mixed reaction in the 2,300-family Wauconda parish, with members concerned by what has become the latest in a series of allegations involving Catholic priests across the nation.
Ray was removed from Transfiguration in November 1991, a month after Cardinal Joseph Bernardin established a special commission to address clerical sexual misconduct with minors. The commission made several recommendations that later became policy. One of those changes was the establishment of a nine-member review board designed to investigate allegations against priests and set punishment.
When Ray was removed from the Wauconda parish, members were told it stemmed from his prior service at St. Peter Damian parish in Bartlett. Mary McDonough, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said allegations had then surfaced that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor at that parish.
He later took an administrative job at the Chicago Archdiocese Office of Health and Hospital Affairs, where he served until the past week, McDonough said.
Bartz had already left Transfiguration when allegations were brought against him. In the late 1980s, while Bartz was serving as a faculty member at the University of St. Mary of the Lake-Mundelein Seminary, the archdiocese began receiving various allegations that Bartz had engaged in sexual misconduct. Officials believe those allegations stemmed from his time at Ascension and at St. Mary.
Bartz served at Ravenswood Hospital as chaplain until last week, when he was removed from his duties. McDonough said he has since resigned from the ministry. Ray is appealing his case.
The Rev. Tom Enright, head pastor at Transfiguration, said he has received nothing but support from the parish since word broke. While he has served the congregation for the past several years, he never met Bartz or Ray.
“From what I understand, this was something that had happened quite awhile ago and the allegations were made quite awhile ago,” Enright said. “We haven’t received any calls from parishioners. There is hurt all the way around, but faith holds this community together.”
Mers, who has been a member of Transfiguration since 1958, said she was perturbed at the allegations against the two former priests. She added, however, the news has done nothing to shake her faith in the Catholic Church or in Transfiguration.
“I think that our cardinal is doing what he thinks is the best thing,” Mers said. “I certainly don’t feel they should be around children if this is the situation. To me, I’m not going to change religions because of this. We all just have to pray for these people.”
Connie Ellis, head of the art and environment ministry at Transfiguration, echoed the positive comments other parishioners made about Ray.
“When he left, we were all like – Oh my gosh, not Father Ray,” she said. “He was a very nice, very kind man. Honest to God.”