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Abuse victim finds it ‘extremely hard to believe’ church didn’t cover up abuse

Joe Iacono 62 who was abused early 1960s while he was student St. John Vianney Catholic School North Lake Ill.

Joe Iacono, 62, who was abused in the early 1960s while he was a student at St. John Vianney Catholic School in North Lake, Ill., talks about The Archdiocese of Chicago releasing thousands of pages documenting clergy sex abuse allegations to victims' attorneys who have for years fought to hold the Catholic Church accountable for its handling of such claims, at his home Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, in Springfield, Ill. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:18AM

On Oct. 23, 1967, then Archbishop of Chicago Cardinal John Cody inquired in a brief memo to a Monsignor Byrne: “What are you planning to do about this Father Kelly?”

Nowhere near enough was done, contends 62-year-old Joseph Iacono, who said he was sexually abused in his preteens by the late Archdiocese of Chicago priest Thomas F. Kelly.

According to documents from the archdiocese, more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse against minors were made to the church against Kelly. The abuse was alleged to have occurred while he served at three different parishes between 1967 and 1973, including St. John Vianney, St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower).

The documents show Kelly was accused of plying minors with alcohol, fondling them, performing oral sex on them and showing them pornography.

“I think that it’s important to see how the church mishandled these situations,” said Iacono, who welcomes the release of the documents and says he was abused in the rectory at St. John Vianney in Northlake. “The priest that abused me was moved . . . to different parishes and he abused at other parishes.”

The first indication of a problem in Kelly’s personnel files appears in the Cody memo, to which Byrne responds two days later about plans to move Kelly from St. John Vianney to St. Catherine. Neither memo makes specific mention of sexual abuse. But following Kelly’s move to St. Catherine, in a February 1968 letter to Byrne updating him on how Kelly was progressing at the new church, Kelly notes he had gotten calls from Northlake, and “It does not seem that there has been any public scandal for which I thank God daily.

“I have been faithful to my spiritual exercises and I am more convinced than before that there is no real problem as long as vigilance and common sense prevail.”

But nine months later Kelly was imploring Cody in a letter to allow him to remain a priest and noting he would immediately seek psychiatric help after it appears there were more allegations of wrongdoing against Kelly.

“. . . the priesthood is my life, your Eminence,” he wrote, “and I cannot pretend that losing it would not shatter me and my family. At the same time, a public scandal while I was a priest would be much worse not only for us but for the church as well?”

He notes, “You very aptly compared the situation to alcoholism. We have seen men who joined AA make the road back to recovery. First they had to admit the problem, then seek help. I have done the former, which I had not done last year.”

Cody responds on Dec. 6 thanking him “for the fine spirit of priestly cooperation with which you are willing to show in this delicate matter.”

Kelly remained at St. Catherine until 1972, when he was moved to St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower). He served at four additional churches before dying in 1990.

It wasn’t until 2002 — 35 years after Cody’s 1967 memo and long after Kelly’s death — that the archdiocese found “there was reasonable cause to suspect that sexual misconduct with a minor did occur,” archdiocese documents show.

The Illinois assistant state’s attorney was notified of alleged abuse by Kelly in 2006.

Bishop Francis Kane, vicar general of the archdiocese, stated last week ahead of the release of the documents to attorneys that there was no cover-up in how the church has handled past cases of abuse. But Iacono said, “I find that extremely hard to believe.”

And he doesn’t buy the church’s claim that decades ago the church didn’t really know how best to handle such allegations.

“Was it not important to protect children in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s?” he asks.

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