Sexual abuse lawsuit filed against Peoria diocese 4, 2004
By Theresa Churchill

Peoria, Ill. -- Dan Koenigs said he did not want to be there.

Yet, while holding his wife's hand to keep it from shaking, Koenigs stayed where he was Tuesday afternoon in the Peoria County Courthouse. And he told a roomful of reporters why he is suing the Catholic Diocese of Peoria and three of its priests for sexual abuse he suffered as a teenager at their hands.

"I don't want to do this," he said. "But they haven't done anything as far as saying we did this, we're wrong and we're sorry."

His 10-count lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Peoria County Circuit Court, is his latest step in a journey that began in April 2002 when Koenigs, now 36 and a resident of Cisco, Ill., first went public with his allegations.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also spoke at the news conference and said Koenigs had no choice but to sue. "Things just haven't changed enough and to prevent any more children from being abused the way we were," she said.

On Tuesday, the Peoria Diocese - which covers 26 counties in central Illinois, issued a statement that the diocese offered Koenigs counseling and that Bishop Daniel Jenky apologized to Koenigs in a 2002 letter "for any abuse you may have suffered from anyone connected to the church."

The lawsuit alleges that Frances Engels, while he was priest of St. John's Vianney Catholic Church in Cambridge, and the late William Harbert, while priest at St. John's Parish in Walnut, molested Koenigs between 1980 and 1984. The sexual abuse included fondling, masturbation, oral sex and anal sex.

Koenigs stayed silent until his abusers resigned from public ministry in 1993 after admitting they had molested another teenage boy in the 1970s. That case involved Kevin Richmiller, who was living in Moline in 1993 and is about 10 years older than Koenigs. Richmiller has said that he was sexually abused by Harbert and Engels. Later in 1993, Engels, who was pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Annawan at the time, resigned from public ministry after admitting to the allegations involving Richmiller.

Harbert also voluntarily resigned. That same year, three siblings from a Moline family also accused Harbert of molesting them during the early 1970s. One of the siblings, Michael Emery, said he was molested by Engels as well. In 1993, Richmiller said Harbert had begun molesting him in 1972, when he was 14, and that Engels had begun sexually abusing him when he was 15.

Harbert previously served St. Joseph Parish in Rock Island and Christ the King Church in Moline at the time of the alleged molestation involving Richmiller. In the early 1970s, Koenigs went to the Catholic Diocese of Peoria to report his experiences to then-Bishop John Myers. Koenigs said Myers told him the two men never would be active priests again.

After undergoing counseling the diocese offered, Koenigs said the nightmare receded for a while. Then a church employee tipped off his mother in May that the diocese planned to reinstate Engels on a substitute basis. That caused the diocese to quickly withdraw the reinstatement.

The diocese contends it had no knowledge of the abuse before 1993.

The third priest named in the lawsuit - Gregory Plunkett of New Windsor - allegedly fondled Koenigs and exposed himself during a car ride in 1981, before he began studying to be a priest.

Last June, the diocese removed Plunkett from his pastorate at St. Catherine's in Aledo and St. Mary's in Keithsburg. In December, the Mercer County State's Attorney's office charged Plunkett with criminal sexual abuse involving a juvenile he had spent time with in recent months.

Engels and Plunkett could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Koenigs' attorney Joseph Klest of Schaumburg - called for the Peoria Diocese to follow the example of the Springfield Diocese, which has decided to pay $3 million to 28 victims of child sexual abuse by clergy in the 1970s and 1980s.

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