Former pastor in Diocese of Joliet under investigation
By Bob Okon and David Sharos Sun-Times Media August 30, 2012 1:02PM
Rev. James Nowak
Updated: October 1, 2012 5:49PM
JOLIET — The Diocese of Joliet has placed a retired priest on leave during an investigation into sexual abuse alleged to have occurred more than 25 years ago.
The Rev. James Nowak, 75, served as pastor and assistant pastor in six different parishes in the diocese since his ordination in 1967. He was last pastor at Ss. Peter and Paul in Naperville before his retirement in 2007. Nowak had continued to say Masses in the diocese during retirement until being placed on leave.
The allegation involves abuse of a minor. A spokesman said the diocese still is trying to determine where and exactly when the alleged abuse occurred.
But Bishop R. Daniel Conlon placed Nowak on temporary administrative leave after determining that “abuse has likely occurred,” according to a statement put out by the diocese this week.
Law enforcement authorities have been notified of the allegation, diocese spokesman Doug Delaney said Thursday. And, the case will be referred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome for investigation.
“These matters are investigated by church officials in Rome and their findings will then be reported to the bishop here who will make the final decision,” Delaney said. “At this point, we have no idea how fast this will happen. We learned about the matter very recently and things have moved quickly.”
The church investigation of the incident is separate from any investigation that may be done by law enforcement authorities, Delaney said.
Delaney provided a history of Nowak’s work as a priest:
1967-1971, assistant pastor at Sacred Heart in Lombard;
1971-1974, assistant pastor at St. Andrew’s in Romeoville;
1974-1976, study in Rome;
1976-1988, served in the Marriage Tribunal office in Joliet;
1988-1993, pastor at St. Anthony’s in Joliet;
1993-2002, pastor at Holy Trinity in Westmont;
2002-2007, pastor at Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville.
The diocese has heard from one accuser in the Nowak case, said Delaney.
His case surfaces after years of allegations of sexual abuse against priests in the Joliet Diocese and elsewhere. In 2006, the Joliet diocese had 15 abuse lawsuits pending in Will and DuPage counties and faced allegations of past attempts to cover up sexual abuse by priests.
The Joliet diocese has changed its procedures for handling allegations of abuse, including the creation of a Diocesan Review Committee comprised of lay people who review accusations. The committee reviewed the allegation against Nowak before Conlon decided to forward the case to Rome.
Delaney described the accusations against Nowak as “an unfortunate situation” and said that the number of clergy accused in the past decade or more somewhat reflects changes in the process of how these matters are being addressed.
“These charges against Rev. Nowak are two decades old, and I think part of the reason we are seeing more of these things is because the church has encouraged people to come forward if there are concerns and it has worked hard to protect their identities,” Delaney said. “There is now a system in place where concerns can be addressed and investigated. It’s easier now for victims to come forward.”
Judith Speckman, victim assistance coordinator for the diocese, would not comment on the Nowak case Thursday. The diocese, however, asked that anyone with relevant information call Speckman at 815-263-6467.