Joliet Diocese target of abuse suit

THE STAR Thursday, December 24, 1998

A Vernon Hills man filed a lawsuit Monday accusing a former, now-deceased, Park Forest priest of molesting him as a teenager.

James Komp, 34, was an altar boy at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Park Forest when the abuse allegedly occurred between March and June 1980.

The accused priest, the Rev. Richard Ruffalo, died in February 1997.

The lawsuit filed in Cook County Circuit Court charges the Diocese of Joliet, Bishop Joseph Imesch, and St. Mary's Catholic Church with not protecting Komp and not taking steps to prevent the abuse. The lawsuit says the sexual abuse caused Komp problems with drugs, alcohol and gambling, as well as severe emotional problems.

Komp learned the effects of the alleged abuse after starting therapy in February 1997, said his lawyer, JOSEPH KLEST. Komp previously had undergone drug and alcohol counseling but never mentioned the sexual abuse, Klest said.

"He recalled the abuse," Klest said. "He just didn't know that it caused his problems until someone who was a trained professional (psychologist) told him."

Joliet Diocese officials declined to comment on the lawsuit but expressed concern about Komp's welfare.

The lawsuit says Komp was interested in becoming a priest and was encouraged to form a close relationship with Ruffalo.

The lawsuit accuses Ruffalo of getting underage boys, including Komp, drunk. According to the suit, the abuse occurred in Cook and Will counties and in Ruffalo's car. Komp also spend the night at the rectory with Ruffalo, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit charges the Joliet Diocese with negligent supervision, breach of its duty to control Ruffalo's conduct, and its duty to protect Komp, failure to perform non-delegable duty and civil conspiracy.

The civil conspiracy charge accuses the Catholic Church of opening private psychiatric treatment centers across the country in the 1960s solely to treat priests and religious brothers accused of child sexual abuse.

Dioceses across the country, including Joliet, handled cases of abuse "in such uniform fashion as to demonstrate a common plan...to conceal these crimes from the public by failing to report and thus avoiding criminal prosecution," the suit says.

"They (Catholic bishops) knew they had problems with priests for a long time....but my parents didn't know it, nobody's parents knew it until these suits started getting filed," Klest said.

Komp is seeking at least $600,000 in damages. He is "doing better," Klest said, and is working and caring for his wife and two children.

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