The Catholic Diocese of Peoria has removed three long-retired priests from public ministry because of credible allegations of sexual misconduct with children.
In a news release Thursday, the diocese said that George Hiland, Duane Leclerq, and John Onderko can no longer use the title reverend or father, wear clerical garb, or function as priests in any public capacity. None of the allegations are less than 30 years old. All three former priests served numerous parishes throughout the 26 county diocese.
Bishop Daniel Jenky said Hiland allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct about a half-century ago. That’s when Hiland was serving a church in Streator. He went on to numerous other churches around central Illinois before he retired in 1994.
The diocese says the allegation against LeClerq happened about 30 years ago. That’s about the time LeClerq was serving in Dewitt County at churches in Clinton and Wapella. Leclerq also spent four years at Holy Trinity in Bloomington during the 1960s. LeClerq retired in 2008.
The oldest credible allegation, according to the diocese, is against Onderko, dating back about 55 years. That general time frame puts him serving at churches in either LaSalle or Creve Coeur when the alleged incident occurred.
Jenky said all the allegations have been forwarded to the relevant state’s attorneys. It is not clear what can be done many decades after the alleged sexual misconduct.
It is also not clear when the allegations were lodged with the church. The Peoria Diocese has not returned a GLT request for comment on that point.
The announcement comes amid rising calls for the creation of a special statewide grand jury to investigate priest sex abuse in Illinois. Numerous lawmakers and some statewide candidates for office this year have called for such a move.
In mid-October four people sued all the dioceses in Illinois. They claimed the church protected priests over decades at the expense of victims. Two of the plaintiffs said priests in the Peoria diocese abused them. Neither of the priests named by victims in that suit are among those removed from ministry in this latest announcement.
Over the summer, a report on a lengthy state attorney general’s investigation into priest abuse in Pennsylvania indicated the church covered up abuse of more than a thousand victims by hundreds of priests over seven decades. The federal government has now begun an investigation into the situation in Pennsylvania as well.
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