A Response to the Chicago Sun-Times Story

A message from the Rev. Anne Jolly, Standing Committee President:

As you may know, the Chicago Sun-Times posted a story online on Friday about the diocese’s handling of allegations received in May 1990, that Richard Kearney, then a priest of the diocese, had sexually abused boys. The diocese communicated frequently with the Sun Times reporter over a period of months, but much of the information we provided was not included in the story that was published. As a result, the story created a misleading impression of how diocesan leaders at the time, including Bishop Frank Griswold, and then-Canon Chilton Knudsen, handled the allegations against Kearney and responded pastorally to victims, their families, and the parishes affected.

The Sun-Times story includes the account of a priest it does not identify who, it reports, informed the diocese “as early as 1987” that she had suspicions that Kearney had sexually abused at least one child at a parish. Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to verify that she communicated her concerns to any member of the diocesan staff at that time. The Rt. Rev. James Montgomery was bishop diocesan until October 1, 1987, when Bishop Griswold, who has previously served as coadjutor, succeeded him.

Now, as then, the Diocese of Chicago takes allegations of sexual abuse very seriously. If you need to make a confidential report about this situation or about any abuse or harassment that has happened within the church, please email Terri Bays, the intake officer for disciplinary matters, or call her at 574.233.6489. You can also make a confidential report of abuse to the Illinois Department of Child and Family Service’s Child Abuse Hotline at 800-25-ABUSE. All reports of clergy misconduct and abuse are adjudicated according to the Episcopal Church’s Title IV process, and the diocese cooperates fully with all law enforcement investigations of clergy abuse. In addition, all clergy and lay leaders in our diocese undergo safe church training using a churchwide curriculum that is now being updated to reflect the Episcopal Church’s 2017 model policies to protect children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

What follows is a timeline that provides more detail and a fuller picture of how Bishop Griswold and his staff responded both canonically and pastorally in 1990 and details about the legal and canonical proceedings that concluded in 1991. You can also read the letter that Bishop Griswold sent in July 1990 to make the allegations against Mr. Kearney public.


On May 28, 1990, an 18-year-old man met with the Rev. Chilton Knudsen, then a member of the Diocese of Chicago’s staff, and informed her he had been sexually abused by the Rev. Richard D. Kearney for roughly four years, from the age of about 12 to the age of about 16. Kearney was the vicar at St. Bride’s Episcopal Church in Oregon, Illinois in the years in which the abuse occurred, and the young man was active in the parish.

The Rev. Knudsen immediately informed the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, then Bishop of Chicago, of the young man’s report. Griswold instructed Knudsen to contact Kearney, who was then the rector at Church of the Annunciation in Gurnee, forbid him to conduct services the following Sunday, and require him to meet with Griswold immediately.

These were the first steps in a ten-week period in which the Rev. Knudsen and Bishop Griswold worked quickly and diligently on several fronts to respond to this report. Their actions included:

  • verifying the allegations
  • suspending Kearney’s ability to function as a priest
  • removing Kearney from Church of the Annunciation (which had recently moved from Waukegan to Gurnee)
  • placing him in a supervised environment in which he did not have access to children
  • persuading the young man who met with the Rev. Knudsen to tell his story to law enforcement authorities
  • alerting the people of the diocese that Kearney had sexually abused children
  • inviting other victims to come forward in confidence
  • offering counseling to all who requested it
  • cooperating fully with law enforcement.

From mid-June through early July, the Rev. Knudsen (who later served as Bishop of Maine and is now serving the Diocese of Chicago as an assisting bishop) and Bishop Griswold spoke publicly about the allegations against Kearney in open meetings at St. Bride’s in Oregon, Illinois and at Annunciation in Waukegan; in an interview with a Waukegan newspaper, and in a letter from Bishop Griswold to the people of the Diocese of Chicago.

Kearney was under supervision and in treatment by mid-June 1990; released in September; arrested in November; pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse related to the abuse of two teenage boys in the mid-1980s; and began a four-year term under supervision of the Department of Corrections. He was also deposed from the Episcopal priesthood through a process initiated by Bishop Griswold and the Rev. Knudsen.

On June 4 the Rev. Knudsen met with the 18-year-old man’s parents at their home. They were reluctant to have him inform law enforcement or the Department of Child and Family Services of his abuse and hoped to protect his privacy.

On June 7, Bishop Griswold met with Kearney. The Rev. Knudsen was called into the meeting and wrote a memo for the diocesan files. At the meeting, Kearney acknowledged the truth of the allegations made by the young man who had met with the Rev. Knudsen and admitted he had similarly abused “others.” Griswold told Kearney he was “relieved of ministerial privileges,” and that he must begin treatment immediately with a therapist with whom the diocese contracted for counseling services. Kearney said he would do so.

On June 12, Kearney met with a therapist under contract with the diocese who recommended in-patient care at one of two clinics. Because the young man who met with the Rev. Knudsen remained reluctant to speak with law enforcement authorities, she was eager for another way to place Kearney under supervision away from children. She was also concerned for Kearney’s well-being. Kearney’s boyfriend had called her and told her he was suicidal.

Although St. Barnabas Clinic in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin was full, Bishop Knudsen remembers being able to secure Kearney expedited admission. The clinic is about a 90-minute drive from Waukegan. Kearney went into treatment on or shortly after June 15, but not before he sexually abused a boy who lived across the hall from him in his apartment complex, according to police reports. Those reports indicate the priest had been abusing the boy for several years when this abuse occurred.

Throughout the period after May 28, Bishop Knudsen remembers that she spoke with the 18-year-old young man three or four times, including running into him at an event at his parish. Diocesan records indicate she met twice more with his parents and assured them the diocese would not make their son’s name public as it began to inform the congregations at Annunciation and St. Bride’s. Bishop Knudsen remembers that when the young man agreed to speak with police, she contacted the Lake County sheriff’s office. She remembers being advised to call the sheriff rather than the Department of Child and Family Services hotline by an individual with knowledge of the area’s legal and child protective systems. The department was then embroiled in a widely discussed lawsuit (B. H. v. Smith, filed in 1988) in which plaintiffs alleged DCFS was slow to react to reports of child abuse and neglect, and that such complaints often went uninvestigated. (DCFS still operates under a court-monitored consent decree resulting from this case.)

Bishop Knudsen says she “vividly remembers” her call to the sheriff’s office. “I do not know for certain I spoke with the sheriff, but I know that I spoke with a responsible party in the office,” she said. Bishop Knudsen remembers supplying her name, Kearney’s name, the victim’s name and Bishop Griswold’s name, and informing the sheriff’s office that the bishop was aware she was making the call.  She did not hear more from a law enforcement or child protective agency until August, shortly after a parishioner at Annunciation contacted DCFS regarding Kearney.

On June 22, Bishop Griswold and the Rev. Knudsen met with the people of the Church of the Annunciation to inform them that Kearney had confessed to sexually abusing children. They were accompanied by social service professionals who provided counseling.

On June 30, Bishop Griswold and the Rev. Knudsen met with St. Bride’s in Oregon, to inform them that Kearney had confessed to sexually abusing a child from the parish. They assured the congregation the diocese would be open with the media and “never seek to impede any person who would desire to seek a legal recourse.”

In a July 5 letter, Bishop Griswold informed the diocese about Kearney.  (“He also acknowledged to us that he understood his active priesthood is over,” the bishop wrote regarding Kearney.) He said the diocese was conducting an open process to invite other victims to come forward. (Read his letter. LINK)

On August 1, the state’s Department of Child and Family Services received a call on its hotline from the mother of two boys regarding possible abuse by Kearney at Annunciation, Gurnee. The woman had attended the parish’s open meeting in June.

On August 3, the Rev. Knudsen was interviewed by DCFS, primarily about the August 1 complaint.

Bishop Knudsen remembers giving the authorities contact information for St. Barnabas, but to her knowledge, police did not contact Kearney there, and, according to documents in the recent court case, they did not interview him before his arrest in November.

On September 10, Kearney wrote to Griswold asking to be released from his priestly vows in the Episcopal Church.

On September 11, a detective from the Waukegan Police Department conducted a telephone interview with the young man who had first met with the Rev. Knudsen in late May.

Kearney was released from treatment in mid-September. After his release, “there was a robust aftercare plan which included outpatient therapy, self-help groups, and frequent visits, both in person and by phone, with personnel from St Barnabas, as well as various medications prescribed for him,” Bishop Knudsen remembers.

On October 24, the Waukegan Police Department detective interviewed the young man in his college dorm room.

On November 19, Kearney was arrested. He pleaded guilty to four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse related to the abuse of teenage boys in the mid-1980s.

On March 21, 1991 Kearney was sentenced to four years under Department of Corrections supervision.

On March 26, 1991 Kearney was deposed (removed) from the Episcopal priesthood.

Bishop Knudsen, who has helped to write curricula on preventing sexual abuse and become a certified sexual abuse prevention trainer, says she has reflected at length on the actions she and the diocese took upon receiving the initial complaint that led to Kearney’s imprisonment.

“I’ve done that kind of thing going back and playing the tapes over and over in my head,” she says, “and I honestly don’t know what I could have done differently.”