There is a powerful, infuriating, moving and heartbreaking story in today's Chicago Tribune. It is the story of one man's quest to see justice done, not just for himself, but for at least one hundred other known victims of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy in the Joliet Diocese in Illinois.
Here's the story:
What makes David Rudofski's story -- just one more story in the long and sordid history of pedophile shuffling by Catholic Church hierarchy all around the globe -- so compelling is his insistence on forcing the diocese to release records related to pedophile priests going back decades. Rudofski refused numerous offers to settle out of court, to be quiet and go away, to, as he put it, "Take the money and run."
The Joliet Diocese readily admitted that David Rudofski was sexually abused during his first confession at St. Mary Catholic Church in Mokena. It offered him an in-person apology from the bishop and more than six times his annual salary in the hope of putting a quick, quiet end to yet another ugly incident involving a priest.Rudofski's steadfast quest for a greater justice exposes more than just hidden crimes. His effort guts the Catholic Church's claims of repentance on the issue. The now retired 81-year-old Bishop Joseph Imesch, who oversaw the diocese for 27 years, reveals just how little the Church hierarchy cares about the victims of their criminal actions:
But Rudofski wanted more than money.
The south suburban electrician wanted the diocese to truly pay for its repeated and, oftentimes, willful mishandling of sexual abuse cases involving clergy — and he insisted on a currency far more precious to the church than money. He demanded that the diocese settle its debt by turning over the secret archives it maintained on abusive priests and making them available for public consumption.
"What was I supposed to do? Take the money and run?" Rudofski said. "How would that help anybody else? If people don't know how this was allowed to happen for decades, they can't prevent it from happening again."
"I'm not going to rehash all of this. I know what I did; I know what I should have done," he said, expressing frustration with the way news reports portrayed his conduct."Never let it go."
When a reporter informed him that a Tribune story was being prepared to report on the newly released documents, Imesch said, "Sure. Sex and the priests, let's blast it all over the place. Never let it go."
As someone who had his own run-in with an abusive priest in the Catholic Church (as I documented here a number of years ago), I will simply repeat what I told Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago when he suggested that I needed to "forgive" the priest who tried to abuse me:
"Forgiveness starts with justice. Without justice, there can be no forgiveness."
Rudofski has put those words into action by forcing justice on an institution that has continually fought to hide its vile misdeeds.
But to prove that the Church still hasn't learned a thing, here's the response given by the current diocesan spokesperson:
"We can't change what happened," said diocese spokesman James Dwyer. "We can understand emotionally why someone would want to bring it up and strike back at the church, and if that's cathartic for them, so be it. Our concern is to move forward and show that we are serious about making sure mistakes of the past are not repeated."The absolute gall. As I noted at the top, this story is infuriating. As the Church has done now for nearly two decades since the abuse charges began to see the light of day, they continue to blame the victim for their own criminal actions.
There is yet even a more profound side to Rudofski's story, revealed only toward the end of this long, excellent piece:
Rudofski was 8 years old when the Rev. James Burnett fondled him while the boy was making his first confession, documents indicate. Court records show he immediately told his mother that the priest had forced him to pull down his pants in the confessional, but she chastised him for making up an outlandish story on such an important day.As others have written here in far more eloquent terms, the effects of abuse radiate out well beyond the victim. David Rudofski is doing his best to let the sun in so all can heal.
After his mother's reprimand, Rudofski said he buried the memory and went on to have a normal childhood. He says it wasn't until adulthood, when he struggled with nightmares about a caped man chasing him, that he confronted the past.
In an October 2006 affidavit for her son's lawsuit, Patricia Rudofski said she scolded him for lying because she trusted her pastor. She said she forgot about her son's allegation until years later, when another alleged victim accused Burnett of abuse.
"I was feeling horrible thinking about my son, thinking that I'm the one who told him to do whatever the priest said," she said in the affidavit. "I mean, I'm feeling horrible, and I just — it was like a flashback. ... Oh my God, he told me."
"I've told her many, many times that I don't blame her for what happened," he said. "Maybe when she sees these files released and sees how it can help people, she will be able to move forward."There is much more detail in the story than I've printed here, including the fact that at least two of the victims of this abuse had taken their own lives. Kudos to the three reporters -- Christy Gutowski, Stacy St. Clair and David Heinzmann -- who put this story together with a wealth of detail and a powerful narrative that ties together the crimes, the impacts and the human side of these events.
But kudos most of all to David Rudofski. I would like to meet him some day and shake his hand. For he is a true hero.
Thank you, David.