Sexual abuse victims sue Diocese of Rockford for allegedly concealing abuse

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Several alleged victims come forward claiming Illinois clergymen sexually assaulted them.

The Diocese of Rockford is named in a statewide lawsuit.

“I’m here because during the sacrament of confession, when I was 12 years old, I was raped by a priest named Peter Koehler,” said John Bollman.

Bollman says his life changed forever in 1999 after he was allegedly assaulted by a priest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lena. Now, he is one of two people suing the Diocese of Rockford. The second person is keeping his identity anonymous.

“This lawsuit is against every Catholic bishop in Illinois,” explained attorney Jeff Anderson.

The Diocese of Rockford is one of six dioceses in the lawsuit.

Jeff Anderson & Associates says the lawsuit being filed alleges the “maintenance of a public nuisance” and a “conspiracy to conceal a public hazard” by failing to disclose the names and files of clergy accused of child sexual abuse.

“Those secrets are the names of the offenders that they know to be in and out of ministry,” said Anderson. “Those secrets are the files that they have kept for decades.”

The lawsuit seeks no monetary damages for victims, but rather transparency — victims demand full disclosure of all accused offenders.

“Bishop Malloy and Diocese of Rockford has not disclosed any lists of offenders accused or credibly accused,” said Anderson. “Nothing. Silence. Secrecy. Suppression of truth they know to be.”
    
Bollman says he fears the abuse could be happening to other children and hopes to inspire others.

“I want to continuously say the message that anybody that was abused by anybody to come forward,” said Bollman.

We reached out the Diocese of Rockford for comment. They declined to speak on camera, but did issue a statement:

“The Diocese of Rockford, along with the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Dioceses of Belleville, Joliet, Peoria, and Springfield are currently in full cooperation with the State Attorney General’s office inquiry into each diocese’s handling of childhood sex abuse claims against clergy.  
 
So as to a response to the lawsuit announced and filed this morning by Mr. Jeff Anderson, there will need to be further review of what this lawsuit seeks to accomplish beyond that of the State’s Attorney General.  
 
For decades, the Diocese of Rockford has had in place codes of conduct for its priests and diocesan employees, as well as procedures for responsibly responding to allegations of sexual abuse. In 2002 the Rockford Diocese implemented additional policies and procedures in light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that year.  
 
Every priest, employee and volunteer who comes in contact with children in the Rockford Diocese or its parishes and schools, must undergo a criminal background check and complete training in our Safe Environment programs in order to prevent, detect, and report abuse of any kind by any person. Students in both our Catholic Schools and our religious education programs are trained with age appropriate materials to identify, avoid and report abuse.  The Diocese of Rockford prohibits any priest with a credible accusation of abuse against a minor or vulnerable adult from functioning as a priest or engaging in ministry.   
 
Also since 1987, the Diocese has formally provided assistance to victims of sexual abuse unconditionally.    
 
 While allegations in the Rockford Diocese are rare, we remain vigilant in regularly reviewing and updating our policies and encouraging victims of abuse to come forward and report the abuse to law enforcement authorities in the county where the abuse occurred, and to contact the Diocesan Abuse hotline at 815-293-7540 or reportsexualabuse@rockforddiocese.org for victim assistance.
 
The Diocese of Rockford enforces these policies because our first priority is and will always be to provide safe environments in which the people of God can serve and be served especially our young people.” 

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