Editor's Note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse of minors and adults that readers might find disturbing. This material is not intended for children. If you or someone you know was sexually abused, contact local law enforcement for help.
It's all about homosexuality — and power. Put another way, it's about a sodomitical lack of continence and self-control. Writing in Catholic World Report, the Rev. Paul Shaughnessy, S.J., hammered this point home in a prescient essay more than a year before the priest sex-abuse scandal broke in Boston in 2002: "A disproportionately high percentage of priests is gay; a disproportionately high percentage of gay priests routinely engages in sodomy; this sodomy is frequently ignored, often tolerated and sometimes abetted by bishops and superiors."1
The saga that has wracked the diocese of Springfield in Illinois and scandalized its parishioners for the past 40-plus years has its primary roots in the vice of homosexuality. Former Bp. Daniel L. Ryan's serial predation of boys, young men and priests was driven by unbridled homosexual lust — and his gamble that no one would believe his victims if they went public. He dared one to do just that.2 His double life was well-known in Chicago, Joliet, Washington, D.C. and Rome. Yet his enablers kept accountability from laying a glove on him. His diocesan leadership team included active homosexual priests who turned a blind eye to complaints about their boss — all while engaged in lurid, immoral acts themselves.3
By Fr. Shaughnessy's definition, the Bp. Ryan situation and the hierarchy's response are classic examples of episcopal corruption. "I define as corrupt, in a sociological sense, any institution that has lost the capacity to mend itself on its own initiative and by its own resources — an institution that is unable to uncover and expel its own miscreants," Shaughnessy wrote. "As an agency, the episcopacy has lost the capacity to do its own housecleaning, especially, but not exclusively, in the arena of sexual turpitude."4
The Bp. Ryan case is chronicled in painstaking detail in a nearly 570-page investigative report compiled over eight years by The Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. (RCF), a watchdog group based in Petersburg, Illinois. The document said Bp. Ryan sexually abused at least four teen boys, sexually harassed and assaulted five diocesan priests and regularly cruised the streets of Springfield for male prostitutes. Bishop Ryan abruptly resigned in October 1999, but the cloud of scandals surrounding him continued for years.
Ryan was among the first three U.S. bishops accused over the past 34 years of sexually abusing minors, according to our analysis of data from watchdog group Bishop Accountability. Of the 36 bishops accused of molesting minors, 80.5% of the cases involved male victims.5 The percentage might be higher, but some U.S. dioceses will not reveal the genders or ages of alleged victims. The percentage is in line with previous statistics on the priestly sex-abuse crisis overall. The John Jay College study of sexual abuse cases from 1950–2002 revealed 81% of victims were male; 78% were post-pubescent.6
Rev. Charles G. Dahlby, a former vocations director who served as a pastor and school chaplain for more than 40 years in the diocese of Springfield, was just as blunt as Fr. Shaughnessy in his assessment. "A homosexual predator could not hope to find a more friendly and supportive environment than priesthood in the American Catholic Church," Dahlby wrote. He said as "homosexuals flocked into the Church," they created a subculture "that is rapidly becoming dominant."
"Most of the scandals and evils we see in the Church today are brought about primarily by homosexuality," Dahlby wrote. "Homosexuality is an objective moral disorder and unacceptable in the priesthood."7
A recent study published by the Ruth Institute noted the increased number of priestly sex-abuse incidents perpetrated against minors in the United States correlated with an increase in the prevalence of homosexual priests. "The share of homosexual men in the priesthood rose from twice that of the general population in the 1950s to eight times the general population in the 1980s. This trend was strongly correlated with increasing child sex abuse," said the report, written by Fr. D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D.8 "Four out of five victims over age 7 were boys; only one in five were girls. Ease of access to boys relative to girls accounts for about one-fifth of this disparity. The number of homosexual priests accounts for the remaining four-fifths."
The trends began to change in 2002, however, according to Sullins. In 1985, males made up 92% of victims. That figure dropped to 74% in 2000 and plummeted to 34% by 2016.9 Homosexuals are much less likely to be ordained to the priesthood today, and newly ordained priests are less likely to perpetrate sex abuse against minors. The younger generation of priests is "far more devoted to orthodox faith and practice than were their predecessors."10
A.W. Richard Sipe, a former priest who spent decades investigating clerical sexual abuse of minors, said sexually active bishops create an atmosphere that is ripe for trouble. "Sooner or later it will become broadly obvious that there is a systemic connection between the sexual activity by, among and between clerics in positions of authority and control, and the abuse of children," Sipe wrote in 2016. "When men in authority — cardinals, bishops, rectors, abbots, confessors, professors — are having or have had an unacknowledged-secret-active sex life under the guise of celibacy, an atmosphere of tolerance of behaviors within the system is made operative."11
Bishop Ryan described the sex-abuse crisis as like the World Series. Ryan denied the misconduct and sexual-abuse accusations against him, although he never responded in any detail to myriad charges. He took a dim view of the notion that there was a pattern to clerical sexual abuse, or that it was being covered up. In 1993, after a lawsuit was filed alleging sadomasochistic sexual abuse of altar boys by Rev. Joseph P. Havey of St. Agnes Catholic Church in Springfield, Bp. Ryan opined that the news media were being unfair. "I wonder how long this can make headlines," he told the State Journal-Register. "Even the World Series eventually is finally over with and other news has to be found."12
Father Havey was accused of fondling a naked toddler, showing hardcore pornography to teen boys, supplying illegal drugs and alcohol to altar boys, and ordering the teens to beat him with a heavy wooden paddle studded with nails while he hung naked by his wrists from a tree. During the beating sessions, the boys said, Fr. Havey would cry, scream and call out to God as he achieved orgasm. He ordered the boys to throw steel darts at his backside while he hung from the tree near the boys' backyard fort. His rear end was badly scabbed and bloody, according to the boys' testimony in a civil lawsuit.
"I looked over to that tree and what I remember is there was a little block of wood right where his groin area was and a bunch of little nails sticking out of the piece of wood, facing him, that he was humping as he was being beaten," one of the boys later said. "It was all bloody and everything and I was like, 'My God, that's where his penis was.'"13 The priest made audio recordings of the beating sessions and listened to them afterward while he wiped blood from his body, the boys said.
Havey forced a baby boy in one family to touch his genitals, and then fondled the child, lawsuit settlement records said. He made two young girls in the same family strip naked and bounce up and down on an inflatable toy known as a "hippity hop," the girls later testified. "Hurry up and put your clothes back on, your parents are coming home," Fr. Havey told them.14
The boys were often exposed to drugs and pornography. "Father Havey would be on the middle bed in our room and all of the kids would be on the floor, smoking pot and reading pornographic magazines," one boy testified. "It was almost like we were in school. We trusted Fr. Havey. We were vulnerable kids from good families. He knew we wouldn't say anything."15
According to testimony in a lawsuit against the diocese, Fr. Havey sexually abused seven children from the same Springfield family in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The suit named 12 children and four parents as direct and indirect victims of Havey's sexual abuse. It was settled out of court.
Like the case of Fr. Alvin Campbell (see "Part Three: 'We are in Schism'"), Havey's sex abuse was well known to the diocese virtually from the time of his ordination in May 1971. After serving as chaplain at St. Anthony High School in Effingham during the 1971–72 school year, personnel records show Fr. Havey "indicates ready willingness to transfer."16 Other personnel records warned that he should not be placed at a high school, and he should be supervised by another priest. After Fr. Havey served fewer than six months at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Granite City in 1974, the diocese personnel board acted on suggestion of another priest that Havey "take his vacation." He did not return to the parish and was placed on sick leave.
After 18 months at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Jerseyville, Fr. Havey left and did not have an assignment for nearly two years. He did several stints in alcohol treatment centers on orders from the diocese. In April 1978, he was placed at St. Agnes in Springfield — a parish with a school — despite the personnel warnings. In June 1981, Bp. Joseph A. McNicholas removed him from St. Agnes and ordered him to check into a treatment center in Michigan. Failure to obey, the bishop said, "will result in the immediate termination of your faculties to function as a priest of the diocese of Springfield."17
Father Havey was permanently removed from ministry in September 1982. He married a woman in Door County, Wis. in May 1983.18 Havey, who denied ever abusing young children or teens, was never charged or prosecuted. At the request of Bp. George J. Lucas, Pope Benedict XVI laicized Havey in April 2005, nearly a quarter-century after he left ministry.19 Havey died in St. Augustine, Fla., in August 2017. His newspaper obituary listed him as "Rev. Joseph Paul Havey."20
Bishop Ryan had plenty of influential pro-homosexual friends that helped provide cover for him, the RCF report said. During the height of his own scandal, at least 12 U.S. bishops supported him keeping his job in Springfield despite the abuse accusations, according to Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.21 He did not identify the bishops. Ryan's immediate superior, Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, fed him confidential information on complaints against him and refused to investigate his brother bishop, the RCF investigation found.
The papal pro-nuncio refused to investigate and also leaked confidential complaint documents to Bp. Ryan. Father Malachi Martin, bestselling author of Windswept House, The Keys of this Blood and other novels, warned in the late 1990s that Bp. Ryan had "powerful friends" at the Vatican.22 Bp. Ryan's diocesan vicar general, chancellor and director of priest personnel stifled complaints about the bishop's sexual predation, according to Brady and case witnesses.
Bishop Ryan often had priests from the chancery accompany him on trips, including to the Cayman Islands, former priest John Reeves said. On one trip, he said he was awakened by a commotion and saw the diocesan vicar general, Fr. John Renken, and marriage tribunal member, Fr. Kenneth Steffen, "chasing each other and ripping each other's underwear off until they were nude. They grabbed at each other's penises and buttocks."23 At the time, Renken and Steffen were "co-pastors" at St. James Catholic Church in Riverton, Ill. Renken now teaches at a Catholic college in Canada, and Steffen was recently removed from ministry by Bp. Thomas J. Paprocki, and later allowed to retire as a "senior priest."24
Abuse survivor Frank R. Bergen said nine of his friends who worked as male prostitutes had paid sex with Bp. Ryan.25 One of those friends later committed suicide by hanging himself in a Springfield park in full view of the road.26 Suicide rates among sex-abuse victims are substantially higher than the general population, and such individuals often struggle with substance abuse and domestic troubles, experts say.
The suicide victim, Anthony W. Miles, 37, had addictions to crack cocaine and methamphetamine, according to testimony in the coroner's inquest of his death.27 He earlier made at least three unsuccessful suicide attempts, his ex-wife testified. On July 20, 2006, Miles walked across the street from his home into Iles Park, climbed a tree along South Sixth Street and hanged himself. Someone driving by noticed Miles' body about 6:45 a.m. and called police.28 He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Bergen said he and some of his cohorts also had paid sex with other Springfield diocesan priests. Bergen identified three parish priests that he "dated" for money. He said he told Bp. Ryan about those relationships. Sandra J. Elraghy, who described herself as a "fag hag" because she had so many male prostitute friends, added the names of five current or former male hookers who serviced "The Bish," as the street people called him. Two of them later died of AIDS. A relative of a Springfield priest was one of Bp. Ryan's lovers, according to Bergen, Elraghy and former hustler John Rossicoe. Bishop Ryan refused to visit him when he was dying of AIDS, they said.
One homosexual priest in the diocese told a colleague that Bp. Ryan "saved" his priestly vocation by telling him "it was OK for him to be a homosexual priest," according to a confidential investigative report compiled by concerned clergy and laity in the diocese.29 "He helped me to understand that I can be myself and be a priest at the same time," the report quoted the priest as saying. "Who I am as a person and the priesthood are compatible. He said I should just be myself and not worry what other people think. He (Ryan) has always been very close to me." The priest still serves in the diocese, the report said.
Brady ascribed the long history of sexual corruption to the diocesan administration in Springfield. "For more than 20 years, the hierarchy of the Springfield diocese was controlled by active homosexuals," Brady said in 2003. "These men could not believe the truths of the Catholic Faith and do the things they did. How many more homosexual priests are active? We may never know the extent of damage done because of the sinful activity, silence and false charity of so many."
Next — Part Six: Shattered Lives, Lost Faith
Previous — Part Four: More Damage & Corruption
Part Five: End Notes
1 "The Gay Priest Problem," Rev. Paul Shaughnessy, Catholic World Report, November 2000; accessed online, June 27, 2019.
2 Frank Robert Bergen interview with State Journal-Register, Jacksonville Correctional Center, Jacksonville, Ill., Page 19. Bergen said when he told Bp. Ryan he was going to the press to expose their relationship, Ryan said, "Go ahead, nobody would listen."
3 According to Roman Catholic Faithful investigative files, some of Bp. Ryan's top chancery officials were active homosexuals, including chancellor, Rev. Eugene E. Costa; vicar general, Rev. John Renken; and marriage tribunal member Rev. Kenneth Steffen. Costa was nearly beaten to death in a public park in 2004 after propositioning teens for sex. Renken and Steffen were accused of a long-term homosexual relationship.
5 Author's analysis of news reports and Bishop Accountability list of accused bishops. Accusations span from 1985 through November 2019.
6 "John Jay Study Undermined by Its Own Data," Bill Donohue, National Catholic Register, June 6, 2011; retrieved online Sept. 26, 2019.
7 "The Pink Elephant in the Church," Rev. Charles Dahlby, The Remnant, March 12, 2005, accessed in PDF form at BishopAccountability.org.
8 "Receding Waves: Child Sex Abuse and Homosexual Priests since 2000," Fr. D. Paul Sullins, Ph.D., The Ruth Institute, June 6, 2019.
9 Ibid, Page 2 of 47.
10 Ibid, Page 32 of 47.
11 Letter to Bishop Robert W. McElroy, A.W. Richard Sipe, La Jolla, Calif., July 28, 2016, Page 3.
12 "Suits Against Priests Try the Faith of Many," Mike Matulis, State Journal-Register, Nov. 29, 1993, Page 3.
13 Personal statement on sexual abuse from "M.S.," page 6 of 7, part of litigation against the diocese of Springfield in Illinois by attorney Frederic W. Nessler.
14 Personal statement on sexual abuse from "B.P.," page 3 of 3, part of litigation against the diocese of Springfield in Illinois by attorney Frederic W. Nessler.
15 Personal statement on sexual abuse from "C.P.," page 4 of 6, part of litigation against the diocese of Springfield in Illinois by attorney Frederic W. Nessler.
16 "Time Line: Fr. Joseph Havey," Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill., part of litigation against the diocese of Springfield, Page 1.
17 Letter from Bishop Joseph A. McNicholas to Rev. Joseph P. Havey, June 11, 1981.
18 Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services. Wisconsin Marriages, 1973-1978; Wisconsin Marriages, 1979-1997. Certificate No. 006057. Wisconsin, USA: Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services.
19 "Havey Defrocked by Papal Order," Dave Bakke, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., April 29, 2005, Page 8.
20 "The Rev. Joseph Paul Havey," obituary, St. Augustine Record, Aug. 24, 2017, accessed at Legacy.com on July 10, 2019.
21 "Diocese of Springfield in Illinois Finally Confirms What RCF Has Said All Along," Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Roman Catholic Faithful, Petersburg, Ill., Fall/Winter 2003 issue, Page 39.
22 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Roman Catholic Faithful, Petersburg, Ill., Summer 2005 issue, Page 20.
23 "Details of Abuse," John Reeves testimony in Matthew McCormick vs. diocese of Springfield, filed Oct. 28, 1999.
24 "Official Appointments," The Catholic Times, ct.dio.org, July 21, 2019.
25 Frank Robert Bergen verbal testimony to Stephen G. Brady in a meeting at the Jacksonville Correctional Center, Jacksonville, Ill., Feb. 11, 1998.
26 "Man Found in Iles Park Apparently Hanged Self," Jayette Bolinski, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., July 21, 2006, Page 10.
27 Inquest No. 2006-C-392, Sangamon County, Ill., Sangamon County Coroner's Office, Springfield, Ill., Aug. 2, 2006, Page 5.
28 Bolinski, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., July 21, 2006, Page 10.
29 Confidential memo on alleged clerical corruption in the diocese of Springfield in Illinois, copy provided to the author, September 2018.