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posted: 8/24/2014 5:01 AM

Editorial: Church obligated to priest's reputation, too

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

In February 2014, the name of a former priest at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Schaumburg was added to the Chicago Archdiocese's list of priests against whom credible charges of sexual misconduct of minors had been made. The news was announced on the archdiocese website, and it made the papers, of course, including the Daily Herald.

On July 24, after new information came to light (from what source we do not know) Joseph Wilk's name was removed from the list of abusive priests.

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But until Wednesday of last week, when the Daily Herald called the archdiocese to ask about Wilk's case, the church had made no public statement other than to remove his name from the list on the website.

We knew about it only because Wilk himself contacted us, saying the story we published in February was no longer accurate. When asked, an archdiocesan official confirmed to reporter Eric Peterson that Wilk's name indeed had been stricken from the list. The official added Wilk was now a priest in good standing.

Was the archdiocese going to tell anybody? A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said Wednesday that taking a priest off the list is so unusual the organization has no procedures in place for announcing it, and that Wilk's case will be an example upon which to build one.

We believe the archdiocese has an obligation -- both to the man and to the parish -- to make it known when church officials have cleared an accused priest. If they need a policy in place to make that happen, they should hurry up about it -- a clear policy that provides assurance to those who interact with that priest while also supporting his reputation and rights in the quickest, most transparent way possible.

Everybody involved deserves to know whether the church and its members can have confidence in him.

The archdiocese has made real efforts to shed light on its own past, owning up to abusive priests and acknowledging its earlier reluctance to remove them from their posts. That they make information about abusive priests public is a good thing.

The Wilk case once seemed so certain. He was sued in May 2013 by a man who claimed Wilk abused him in 1995 and again between 1999 and 2004. In January the archdiocese's Independent Review Board found "reasonable cause to suspect" Wilk had abused a minor. End of story.

Now, all that has changed, at least for the archdiocese. (The lawsuit goes on.) Because of privacy considerations, we may never know what information surfaced, and from where, that has given Joseph Wilk his position back. If the archdiocese believes they made the right call, they need to help reinstate his reputation, too.

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