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Bernardin gave priest repeated chances before forcing resignation

The Rev. Robert Mayer was found guilty fondling 14-year-old girl church rectory St. Odilo Parish Berwyn.

The Rev. Robert Mayer was found guilty of fondling a 14-year-old girl in a church rectory at St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn.

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:19AM

In 1982, a pastor at St. Edna Church in Arlington Heights complained to the archdiocese that his associate pastor, the Rev. Robert Mayer, gave teenage boys alcohol; that young men were seen in his rectory “at all hours of the day and night;” that Mayer showed pornographic videos and that an incident occurred “concerning the measuring of genitals with a group of teens.”

Nine years later, Mayer was charged with fondling a 14-year-old girl in a church rectory at St. Odilo Parish in Berwyn. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years.

But during that nine-year interval, allegations of inappropriate behavior during a previous assignment in Lake Forest came to light, as well multiple allegations from a later assignment in Des Plaines, yet Mayer continued to be transferred to other churches and was ultimately promoted to pastor.

All the while, a major concern was to keep the allegations quiet, church documents show.

“We will need to decide how we are going to handle the Father Mayer situation,” newly appointed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin wrote in a memo six months after the original complaint at St. Edna. “Basically we have agreed that we will review the matter. Our goal will be to arrange for a transfer, but on grounds other than those brought by those who have complained,” the Cardinal wrote.

As officials looked for a new job for Mayer, one wrote: “The Cardinal is also concerned about Bob’s entry into the new parish — i.e. his reputation and his relationship with the new pastor and staff — that his entry be as smooth as possible.”

Mayer moved to St. Stephen Protomartyr in 1983 in Des Plaines, and more complaints about minors, alcohol and X-rated videotapes emerged. An investigation cleared Mayer. But more allegations in 1987, prompted the cardinal to order Mayer “to avoid all unsupervised contact with all persons under the age of 21,” and to leave St. Stephen.

Mayer next took over a parish that was closing and did a good job, according to the records. Even so, officials had second thoughts when Mayer asked to be pastor at St. Odilo in Berwyn. “Part of me would welcome Bob being named a pastor, but there is also the concerns I have for the risks involved,” Vicar of Priests Raymond Goedert wrote.

Mayer assured Bernardin that he was behaving and got the job. But within a year more allegations surfaced and Bernardin had enough and forced Mayer’s resignation in 1991.

Yet the church still tried to keep what happened quiet. “Bob said that we are going to have to help him to handle the political fallout,” a church memo recorded, “and the cardinal responded that he was willing to do whatever he could to protect Bob’s reputation.”

“Personal reasons” were given as an explanation for Mayer’s departure.

But authorities were aware of what had happened, and five months after leaving St. Odilo, Mayer was indicted for fondling a teenage girl.

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