Benedictine order admits keeping cleric at Marmion Academy for years after child sex abuse accusations

The Catholic order’s Marmion Abbey has posted a list of “established offenders.” Unanswered: why Brother Jerome Skaja stayed with the order for years despite “multiple” credible accusations of molesting minors.

Chicago Sun-Times/February 24, 2023

By  Robert Herguth

The Catholic religious order that runs Marmion Academy in Aurora is acknowledging for the first time that one of its members had “established allegations” of child sex abuse in the 1970s and remained at the school for years.
During that time, Brother Jerome Skaja was accused of more sexual misconduct involving minors.

The Benedictines long hid the fact that Skaja, who died in 2016, had been accused of repeatedly sexually abusing a Marmion student in the 1980s, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported in October — and also that they reached a secret financial settlement with the accuser when he threatened to sue when he turned 18.

In December, the Rev. John Brahill, a Marmion leader, said the order planned to post its first public list of “established offenders,” as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has done and as many other Catholic religious orders have. Now, the order has done that. Its list includes two people: Skaja and the Rev. Augustine Jones, a twice-convicted sex offender who died in 2007.

Skaja — who oversaw intramurals and was involved in fundraising for the school — had “multiple” incidents in which he was accused of molesting minors in the 1970s and 1980s, according to the new list, which says the accusations have been deemed to be “true.”

“Established allegations are defined as such — based upon the facts and the circumstances, there is objective certainty that the accusation is true and that an incident of sexual abuse of a minor has occurred,” a note posted with the list says. “The names on the list . . . are based on a process of consultation with an independent review board and is not a legal judgement.”

The Benedictines’ leaders won’t say when they learned of Skaja’s sexual misconduct, what, if anything, was done about the accusations in the 1970s and why he was allowed to stay with the order until 1988.

That was the year Skaja was “dismissed,” the order’s posting says.

Brahill won’t say why Skaja was forced out at that point even though order leaders had known for years by then about the accusations from the Marmion student who got the settlement that Skaja had repeatedly sexually abused him.

That accuser, a former prosecutor now living out of state, says he was assigned to collect athletic equipment after intramural sporting events at Marmion, which at the time was a military-style Catholic boarding school, and take it to a secluded “basement area.”

That’s where he says that, during his sophomore year, Skaja would sexually assault him.

The accuser, who spoke on the condition he be identified only by his initials, J.K., says he eventually reported what happened to the Rev. Vincent Bataille, then the dean of students.

“He told me to treat it as a dead subject — not to tell my classmates, not to tell my parents,” J.K. says.

The mother of one of the teenager’s classmates went to the abbot in charge after hearing about the accusations and was treated “as a hysterical woman,” the former classmate told the Sun-Times. Another former classmate said J.K. told him at the time he’d been sexually assaulted.

No records could be found to indicate Bataille ever notified police, though Illinois law requires school officials to report suspected child abuse.

J.K. says he wasn’t offered counseling or an apology and that no one from the school contacted his family.

Bataille has since been promoted to abbot overseeing Benedictine monasteries with nearly 500 monks across North America and beyond. He couldn’t be reached.

The Benedictines’ list calls clergy sexual abuse of minors “morally reprehensible” and offers a public apology.

That’s not enough, J.K. says: “My takeaway from this is they don’t care, whatever their message was on their website. It’s all platitude. It’s all part of their continuing effort at CYA.”

He says he wasn’t contacted by anyone from Marmion or the order during the internal review that led to the list being posted.

Another former Marmion student who says another now-deceased Benedictine at Marmion once got “touchy-feely” with him — putting his hand on his inner thigh — says he wasn’t contacted, either. That cleric isn’t on the list.

Brahill won’t discuss the order’s review board or say how many settlements the order has paid over accusations of abuse.

The Diocese of Rockford, the arm of the church that includes Aurora, won’t comment.

Another Benedictines group, long affiliated with Benet Academy in Lisle, hasn’t made public a list of predator clergy. The Rev. Austin Murphy, its abbot, won’t comment.

The Benet Lake Abbey, located in Wisconsin just over the Illinois state line, recently released its first public list of credibly accused members. There were six, most of them now dead.

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