Priest rejected at Rantoul parish is pastor elsewhere

Priest rejected at Rantoul parish is pastor elsewhere

RANTOUL – The Rev. Vien Van Do, a Catholic priest rejected as the pastor for a Rantoul church, remains a pastor of three parishes north of Peoria.

Earlier this summer, the St. Malachy Catholic Church congregation balked at accepting Do and instead now has the Rev. Steven Bird as pastor. Opposition was centered around a 1999 lawsuit in which a Monticello couple claimed Do, a native of Vietnam, had molested the woman, a former church secretary.

The suit against Do and the Peoria Diocese was settled in Peoria County Circuit Court in 2002. Details of the settlement were not made public.

Concerning priest appointments to St. Malachy, "It's the first one they've ever changed," said Phillip Warner, one of two church trustees. Warner has been a member of the church since 1943.

In May, Bishop Daniel Jenky, head of the Peoria Diocese, appointed Do to the Rantoul parish as of June 11. The News-Gazette reported June 11 that Do would be the new Rantoul priest.

The change, appointing Bird as of June 16, was not made public until an announcement published in The Catholic Post in late July.

Warner held parish meetings about the Do appointment in late May and early June, and area Catholics sent letters to the bishop in Peoria about their concerns.

"There was enough local people that had issues about him (Do)," Warner said. "People in Thomasboro and Ludlow, where he had been before, also had issues."

Do served parishes in Thomasboro and Ludlow from 1994 until his 1996 move to Monticello and Bement.

Contacted by telephone in Wyoming, Ill., Do, 59, said he had "no comment."

Do has served congregations at St. Dominic's, Wyoming; St. Patrick's, Camp Grove; and St. John's, Bradford, since 2006 and remains with those parishes.

In the lawsuit, the Monticello couple, whose names were withheld, claimed that "the inappropriate sexual contact progressed from repetitive hugging to unsolicited and unwanted kissing, touching and fondling of Jane Doe's breasts" at St. Philomena's, in 1997 and 1998. Do was the pastor at the Monticello church, plus St. Michael's in Bement at the time.

The suit also said a diocese official threatened the secretary's husband with the loss of his title as a deacon if he spoke publicly about the case.

At the time, the Most Rev. John J. Myers – now archbishop of Newark, N.J. – was bishop of Peoria.

A Springfield lawyer for the couple did not return repeated calls for comment.

The diocese denied the allegations, according to Associated Press articles about the lawsuit, and put Do on a temporary leave of absence in 1998.

Do underwent counseling and was "judged fit to return to work," according to diocese comments to the AP at the time.

The current directory of the diocese said Do took another leave of absence, in 1999. In between his leaves, Do served as an assistant at St. Anthony's in Streator.

After his second leave of absence, Do worked in Peoria and Moline before moving to Wyoming.

The Peoria Diocese did not answer detailed questions about the case but issued the following statement from Monsignor Paul Showalter, vicar general of the diocese, this week:

"Father Vien Van Do is a priest in good standing. The changes to his assignment to St. Malachy Church in Rantoul were due to his desire to stay at his present assignment as well as routine personnel changes."

The St. Malachy trustee and an area monsignor have a different story about the change.

"When push came to shove, I got a hold of Monsignor (Albert) Hallin, vicar of Champaign (a group of 22 area churches) and he came up to talk to us," Warner said of a May meeting with the congregation.

In a telephone interview, Hallin described Do as "unfortunately, not familiar with American customs and kinds of distance required of people not married or related."

Hallin said the diocese settled the lawsuit and "impressed on him (Do) the fact that this (behavior) is not appropriate."

"When that (Do appointment) hit the (St. Malachy) community in Rantoul ... it didn't help that we (Catholics) have had more problems with clergy sexual abuse," Hallin said.

Hallin said he talked personally with the bishop.

"You don't tell the bishop what to do, but in most matters like this he asks, 'What do you think?' " Hallin said. "I said, 'It won't work (to appoint Do); you need to do something different.'"

"Then the bishop asked Father Bird and I think it's a marriage made in heaven," Hallin said. "He has enough personality, tact and quiet demeanor."

Bird, 45, was ordained in 2000. He has served parishes in Lincoln, Atlanta, Mason City, Moline, Mendota and Kewanee before taking a leave of absence. During the leave, "I was with the Dominicans in Cincinnati, Ohio," he said.

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frenchy wrote on August 28, 2010 at 7:08 pm

Is it really necessary for the News G. to be like ravenous wolves to dig up smut from the past and rehash it yet again? I canceled my subscription long ago to this paper and I'm pretty certain I'm going to stop getting local news online here. I mean if all you are interested in are reports from the courtroom, police reports, and trash talk about people (past and present) then I suppose it is a good paper. But, well written articles that educate the public on local event and news - to be polite the NEws Gazette leaves A LOT to be desired.

WiltonDiary wrote on August 29, 2010 at 3:08 am

Gee and I always thought the job of the News Gazette was to report the news. It may not be news you like or news you would rather avoid but news related to a priest, sex and abuse is a huge story and should have been published.

The fact that Bishop John J. Myers and/or Bishop Daniel Jenky were involved in sending an outsourced Priest from Vietnam with a history of sexual misconduct to Rantoul, is an insult to not only the parishioner's of Saint Malachy, but the entire Catholic community.

Saint Malachy is one of the largest pro-active and moneyed parishes in the Diocese of Peoria, and they also provide Catholic education to hundreds of young children. Rantoul deserves better, the diseases of Peoria deserves better from Rome than Bishop Jenky and Bishop Myers, who now serves Jersey Shores.

WE are taught at an early age that unwanted sexual advances, physical contact and molestation is a criminal act! As soon as such behavior is known, shouldn't those with knowledge of it turn the perpetrator over to legal authorities for prosecution?

The Catholic Church apparently considers itself above laws that govern society in general, and those holding positions of authority — starting with a parish priest — feel that “repentance” resolves this crime. Would it do the same for a murderer?

Jesus “is the one who said, ‘Whatever you did to any of my brothers, even the lowliest, you did to me.’ That means that any priest abusing the vulnerable and unsuspecting is doing that to Jesus, raping Jesus. Any clerical functionary who shows more sympathy for the predator priests than for their victims instantly disqualified himself as a follower of Jesus.

The faithful members of Saint Malachy have reason to be insulted by the Bishops of Peoria, past and present. Christian doctrine is based on the revolutionary concept of forgiveness of sin, and yet how can an adult in authority be forgiven for having taken advantage of innocents?

I would argue that, among all religions, this particular doctrine inspires hope, peace and reverence for life, and should itself be revered. While it makes sense that celibacy may be the villain, it is more likely that secrecy within the structure of the Catholic Church — what we now call lack of transparency — is the culprit.

Enshrouding officials in an impenetrable cloud of holiness, creating a holy “legalese” intended to keep outsiders out and insiders in, can only invite abuse by leaders who are, when all is said and done, merely human.