The Herald News Tuesday, December 22, 1998
A former altar boy at St. Mary’s Church in Park Forest filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Joliet on Monday alleging that a priest sexually molested him in 1980.
J. K., now 34, and living in Vernon Hills claims in the suit that the Rev. Richard Ruffalo, who died nearly two years ago, had sexually abused him between March and June, 1980.
The suit was filed in Cook County against the diocese and its trust as well as Bishop Joseph Imesch and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Park Forest. J.K. is seeking damages in excess of $100,000.
“In as much as the priest in question died in February of 1997, the diocese is unable to make any specific response. In addition, it is a matter of policy that the diocese does not offer public comments on any pending lawsuits. However, we are certainly concerned about J.K.’ welfare,” Sister Judith Davies, chancellor of the diocese, said in a written statement.
Ruffalo had worked in the diocese many years and served in various parishes including St. Raymond’s and Holy Cross in Joliet and St. Mary’s in Park Forest. When he died a news story at the time indicated that many of his former students and colleagues attended the funeral service.
J.K.’s attorney, Joseph Klest, acknowledged that some may see the suit as the defamation of someone who cannot defend his reputation. But Klest said it wasn’t until J.K. went into therapy in February, 1997, that he realized many of his problems related to the sexual abuse that occurred to him when he was a young teen.
“He was willing to put his name on it,” Klest said, referring to the lawsuit. Some people need to fight back.”
Klest also noted that the statute of limitations likely will be an issue raised by the diocese. However, he noted that the law states suits may be filed “two years from when he knew or should have known he was abused” and that the abuse was the cause of the problems.
Klest said that as a result of therapy, J.K. had come to realize that the sexual abuse was behind many of his problems. The lawsuit claims that J.K. became a drug, alcohol and gambling addict as a result of the sexual abuse. Klest noted that J.K. is now getting his life together, is married with a family and has a job.
J.K. indicated in the suit that he was being groomed for the priesthood and went on trips with clergy to various locales. On one trip J.K. maintains he saw a priest other than Ruffalo attempt to molest another boy in a hot tub in Las Vegas.
The suit also maintains that the bishop and specific priests should have known of the abuse and had a responsibility to stop it.
Various suits have been filed in recent years alleging sexual abuse by priests in the Joliet Diocese. Some have been settled or dismissed and others are still pending in court.
No court date has been scheduled in J.K.’s suit. The diocese likely will have a chance to file its response in writing before a hearing is scheduled.