By Crystal Yednak, Tribune staff reporter
Two brothers filed lawsuits against the Catholic Diocese of Joliet Wednesday, alleging that two priests at a Mokena church sexually abused them in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Tim Shanahan, 38, alleges in the suits filed in DuPage County that Rev. William D. Virtue abused him at St. Mary Catholic Church when he was about 10 years old.
Virtue most recently served at St. Theresa Catholic Church in Earlville, part of the Peoria diocese. Upon learning of the allegation, the Peoria bishop asked Virtue to step down, though Virtue denied the abuse.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents the Shanahans, said the alleged abuse led to many problems for Tim Shanahan, serving a sentence at Vienna Correctional Center for a drug possession conviction.
His brother, Dan Shanahan, previously had come forward to report that he was sexually abused by Rev. James Burnett at the same church, starting when he was 8 years old. He didn’t tell anyone for years but said he decided to come forward out of fear that Burnett may repeat the abuse with other children.
Anderson said the family brought the suits, which are seeking money damages, because they did not feel the Joliet diocese was being responsive.
Diocese spokesman Thomas Kerber said Wednesday that it is diocesan policy to decline comment on pending litigation. He also said the Diocese Review Committee has not yet reached a decision on Burnett, who remains on administrative leave.
The brothers told their sister about the abuse within the last year, and she took the information to the diocese offices in Joliet and Peoria.
The Joliet diocese was notified of the allegation in December, Kerber said. After interviewing Shanahan and Burnett, who disputed the allegations, the diocese put a priest and a parish staff member in charge of monitoring him. The allegations were forwarded to the Will County state’s attorney’s office and Burnett was told not to have contact with children, he said.
The day Dan Shanahan’s allegations were made public in February, the diocese placed Burnett on administrative leave pending an investigation. Burnett served at St. Mary from 1974 until 1990, and most recently had been serving at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet.
Burnett later sent out a letter in a parish bulletin denying the allegations.
The suits also name Bishop Joseph Imesch as a defendant.
Imesch’s handling of abuse allegations has long brought criticism from victims who accuse him of protecting priests instead of children. Imesch, who announced his retirement last week, has denied that is the case
Burnett also served at St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville and Sts. Peter and Paul in Naperville.