A former Catholic priest continued to live at the St. Barbara Parish rectory for several years after he was accused of sexually abusing several teenage boys there while he worked as a faculty member at Quigley South Seminary in Chicago during the mid-1980s.
Russell Romano was assigned to St. Barbara Parish in 1980 and remained there until he left active ministry in 1991, according to records released last week by the lawyers of those claiming they had been abused through the years by Chicago Archdiocese priests.
In the 136-page file released by the law firm of Jeff Anderson & Associates on Romano, the documents indicate the Chicago Archdiocese knew about and investigated the allegations, but never contacted police and kept the matter quiet.
Serious concerns about Romano began, it appears, in 1985 but were not reported officially until a year later.
In March 1986, a school counselor at Quigley South filed a report of suspected sexual abuse against Romano to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Records indicate Romano was terminated from his job at Quigley at that time. A DCFS administrator stated in a letter to the counselor the following month that the report contained “credible evidence of child abuse.”
But Quigley South officials first became concerned about Romano nearly a year earlier. In April 1985, Quigley’s rector, Rev. John Klein, wrote a confidential memo about a meeting he had with the school counselor who later filed the DCFS report.
In the memo, Klein recounted a conversation he had with the counselor about Romano “having Quigley students over to his [St. Barbara] rectory where he served them liquor (or just beer?) and showed them hardcore pornographic movies.”
The counselor also related that Romano would phone students late at night and had asked one student “for a hug and/or a kiss from time to time in the back room of the Student Government Room.”
Klein reportedly told Romano that such conduct “must cease immediately — otherwise future action would have to be taken.”
According to several documents released last week, the conduct did continue. It reportedly included more overnight stays by Quigley students at the St. Barbara rectory, the use of alcohol, pornographic movies and instances of sexual abuse.
After the DCFS report, the archdiocese informed St. Barbara pastor, Rev. Don Hughes, about the situation. Hughes reportedly said he was concerned about Romano’s student guests and that he had confronted Romano about it. However, Hughes said he had no hard evidence of any wrongdoing.
At that time, the archdiocese conducted its own investigation, interviewing 30 students and former students of Quigley South. During that investigation, archdiocese officials interviewed one former student who accused Romano of fondling him during an overnight visit at the St. Barbara rectory in 1984.
Officials also interviewed Romano’s former pastors. One of them was Rev. Peter Hayes, the pastor of Our Lady Mother of the Church on Chicago’s Northwest Side, where Romano was assigned in 1979.
Hayes told archdiocesan officials that “a couple of parents complained that [Romano] would phone their teenage sons at night and invite them to a movie.” In addition, Hayes stated that “there were indications” that Romano served some of his older teenage guests beer, but that there were no other complaints. Romano was reassigned to St. Barbara Parish in Brookfield after just a 10-month stay at Our Lady Mother of the Church.
Once DCFS found allegations against Romano credible, the archdiocese placed Romano on “medical leave” at St. Luke Institute, a mental health treatment facility for priests in Maryland.
Even after completing his treatment, Romano’s possible return to Quigley South in any capacity was a subject of concern by officials there. In January 1987, Quigley South’s rector wrote to the archdiocese to express that concern.
“Having things pretty calmed down and back to normal here at Quigley, [we] are concerned for Quigley, for our current and former students and for Russ in regards to his return to the area,” wrote Rev. John Klein to Rev. Thomas Ventura, the archdiocese’s vicar for priests.
“To put it honestly, we’re somewhat scared and wary at this moment, and feel we must be very cautious for the good of our institution and our young men,” Klein wrote. “We have serious questions as to whether [Romano] should be allowed to come to Quigley at all or be in contact with any of our students.”
It’s unclear whether Romano ever returned to Quigley South; the diocese later attempted to have Romano reassigned to a hospital ministry prior to his resignation from the priesthood. It’s also unclear what follow-up DCFS did, if any, related to the allegations against Romano.
Romano left active ministry in January 1991. A letter from Bishop Raymond Goedert to Romano indicates that Romano needed to arrange for leaving the St. Barbara rectory to begin a six-month leave of absence. Romano resigned from the priesthood for good in December 1991and was laicized in 2009.
He later married and worked as a licensed counselor with the Illinois Professionals Health Program until 2013, although the archdiocese listed Romano as someone credibly accused of abusing children in 2006. He reportedly has retired from that job.