Matt C. Abbott
A corrupt bishop and a murdered priest
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By Matt C. Abbott
February 24, 2020

As we approach the 22nd anniversary of the unsolved murder of Father Alfred Kunz (March 4), I'm republishing, courtesy of ChurchMilitant.com, part two of a six-part series on the late disgraced Bishop Daniel Ryan of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. The series was written by veteran Catholic journalist Joseph M. Hanneman. Click here to read part three, "We Are In Schism," in which I'm quoted. The other parts of the series can be found at ChurchMilitant.com.

Part II: Floodgates Open


By Joseph M. Hanneman

Decorated U.S. Marine veteran Frank J. Kelly was fed up. Outside the Hyatt Regency hotel in Washington D.C., Kelly spotted the U.S. papal pro-nuncio, who a year earlier did his best to deep-six the sexual-misconduct investigation of Illinois Bishop Daniel L. Ryan. The no-holds-barred Kelly strode up to Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, poked a finger in his chest and boomed, "You belong in jail for what you did to protect Daniel Ryan!" A nervous Cacciavillan said nothing and quickly retreated to his car. Kelly was with a group of protesters praying the Rosary and holding signs outside the semiannual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. One sign read, "Bishop Ryan, Obey Your Superiors and Resign as Bishop!"

The retired lieutenant colonel's tongue lashing of the archbishop in November 1997 is described in a nearly 570-page investigative report compiled over eight years by The Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF), a nonprofit watchdog group based in Petersburg, Ill. The document was initially filed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Child and Youth Protection. It describes a serial homosexual predator bishop who sexually abused minors, sexually harassed his own priests and consorted with male prostitutes. The altercation with Archbishop Cacciavillan, and the six protest signs carried outside the NCCB meeting, were indicators the RCF campaign to oust Bishop Ryan had new urgency.

Just weeks later, a woman contacted RCF, alleging she knew where Bishop Ryan picked up teenage male prostitutes. Sandra J. Elraghy, 34, said she knew many of the male hookers who "dated" Ryan. Stephen G. Brady, RCF president and chief investigator, interviewed her outside of a Springfield, Ill. restaurant. She said she came forward after reading the chancery office's denials that Bishop Ryan was a homosexual, and public comments from the bishop's spokeswoman that RCF officials were "ignorant of good church teaching." She said she wanted the truth about the bishop to come out. "I was sitting on the laundromat table and when I read that I jumped right off there and looked up Steve Brady. I read that article, slammed the paper down, jumped off the table. I called Steve Brady and he came the same night."[1]

Elraghy said she often saw Bishop Ryan stop and pick up male hookers like Frank Bergen. "Me and Frank were standing in front of a bar just chit-chatting," she recalled of one instance. "He said, 'I've got to go, there's The Bish.' I said, 'The Bish?' He said, 'That's the bishop of the Catholic Church. See you later.' "[2] One day, she and Bergen watched "The Bish" pick up a hustler named Kent. "Kent did The Bish," she told Brady. Elraghy and Bergen followed the car back to the rectory at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and waited for more than an hour for Kent to emerge from Bishop Ryan's quarters.

Bergen told Elraghy of his own sexual involvement with Ryan. "I said, 'that's the bishop? He's like taking the tithing money, the tithing money and giving it to you guys and you're doing cocaine with it?' " an exasperated Elraghy asked. "And he's like, 'Yeah, we're going to get really f – d up.' "[3] Elraghy gave Brady the names of hookers whom she said serviced the bishop. Some were real names and some were street names like "Peanut," "O.D.," "Big Joe" and "Spider."[4]

Brady tracked Bergen to the Jacksonville Correctional Center, where he was serving a sentence for retail theft. Elraghy sent Bergen a letter asking him to share his Bishop Ryan story with Brady. Two weeks later, Brady sat across from Bergen at the Jacksonville prison. What he heard over the following four hours still weighs on him more than two decades later. "I always felt I was fairly strong and pretty much a hard nut to crack," Brady said at the time, "but the story this man told almost made me ashamed to be a Catholic."

Bergen told of his many trips to the cathedral rectory for sex. He said Bishop Ryan liked expensive cigars and Johnny Walker scotch. The bishop preferred young blonds. Ryan had a foot fetish. Bergen said he confessed the sinful sex to Ryan just after they completed it. Sometimes, Ryan had Bergen kiss his ring, just as the faithful do when meeting the pope. Bergen talked of a friend who had sex with the bishop and later died of AIDS. After the friend was diagnosed with the deadly disease, Bergen said, the bishop refused to visit him – even when the man was on his deathbed. Bergen named a number of other priests whom he said paid him for sex over the years. One of those clerics died in the early 1990s, one was removed from ministry by his religious order but later returned to service in the Diocese of Joliet, and another was removed from ministry in 2018 for allegedly "misappropriating" $29,000 and possessing a cache of homosexual pornography.[5]

Armed with the testimony from Elraghy and Bergen, Brady faxed the papal pro-nuncio in Washington, advising that he had new, troubling evidence of Bishop Ryan's predatory behavior. He scheduled a press conference for Dec. 30. A week later, Brady received a call from Jimmy M. Lago, a special assistant to Chicago's new archbishop, Most Rev. Francis E. George, O.M.I. Lago asked RCF to delay publicizing the new charges against Ryan. Brady would only agree if Lago provided a letter stating that Archbishop George had opened an investigation into Bishop Ryan. Lago faxed a handwritten note to that effect several hours later, on Dec. 23. Lago, who was also the executive director of Catholic Charities, later succeeded Rev. Thomas J. Paprocki as chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

It was the first exchange in what became a very contentious relationship between Brady and the Chicago archbishop. Father Alfred J. Kunz, a canon law expert from Wisconsin and close friend of RCF adviser Father John A. Hardon, warned Brady not to trust Lago, who was a close associate of the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Lago flew to Springfield and met with RCF staff. He spoke to Father R. Doe and Elraghy about their allegations concerning Ryan and sexual misconduct.

"The issues that you have raised are very serious and it is our intent to pursue them in a serious and rigorous way," Lago wrote.[6]

Publicly, though, he sang a very different tune. Lago told the Bloomington Pantagraph there was "no proof" against Ryan, and "nobody is willing or able to even step forward at this point." James Bendell, RCF's attorney, fired off an angry response. "That statement is a lie," Bendell snapped, and "a betrayal of the trust we placed in you."[7]

The group cut off contact with Lago and planned for a Jan. 15, 1998 press conference. The night before the event, Archbishop George telephoned Brady and urged him not to speak out. "If your first priority is to remove Ryan, do not go public," George said, according to Brady's notes from the call. George told him that if RCF remained "obedient" to the Church, RCF could have a relationship with the hierarchy. "He informed me that by going public, we would be stuck with Ryan," Brady said.

Accusations Pile Up; Press Ignores

"I don't expect you guys to print this." Frank Bergen sat before a very skeptical audience from the local State Journal-Register and told his life story. He shared graphic details of his sexual relationship with Bishop Ryan. His frustration grew as the interview progressed. A reporter challenged him on some of the details, especially related to other priests with whom he claimed to have paid sex. Bergen sensed the scribe's disbelief. "I was an addict for a lot of years, and I know a lot of people won't believe me, but I have a lot of people who do believe me and I know what I'm doing is right," Bergen said.

Bergen got into a tangle with the reporter over when he first met Bishop Ryan. He had said he was 15 or 16 when Ryan first paid him for sex, which would have been during the fall of 1983. Bergen said Ryan liked to be called "The Bish," but the reporter pointed out Ryan wasn't installed as Springfield bishop until January 1984. Bergen insisted he was 15 or 16 when he first met Ryan, although he said perhaps the "Bish" nickname came later. Was Bergen mistaken? Ryan was a bishop in late 1983. He was made auxiliary bishop of the Joliet diocese in 1981.[8] One of the street people who observed Ryan pick up tricks in downtown Springfield said Ryan cruised that area of town for sex in the months before he was installed as Springfield bishop.[9]

"All I have to gain back is my life, to gain my sense of guidance and my sense of purpose again," Bergen said. "I don't care what. You guys can print whatever you want. I don't care. What I care about is seeing justice done." No story appeared in the State Journal-Register. The paper said its reporters found it impossible to confirm Bergen's story. Neither did the Diocese of Springfield report Bergen's accusations to the Sangamon County state's attorney. Diocesan officials later cited the same "inconsistency" issues that kept the story out of the newspaper. The diocese's own policy required such allegations be reported to law enforcement. Bergen later passed a polygraph test administered by an FBI-trained examiner, according to attorney Frederic W. Nessler.

The RCF press conference was attended by 70 people, although only a few were journalists. Elraghy read a statement about why she came forward with information about Bishop Ryan and male prostitutes. "I feel I have been chosen to begin something that creates scandal, when really the church should have taken care of this long ago," she said. "It is a pity to know that so many have been deceived, that so many are not being truly faithful to God. The atrocities, hypocrisies, lies, deceptions and deceit of satan must be uncovered." Elraghy said she hoped speaking out would lead to change. "Many people know not only of Bishop Daniel Ryan's abuse of young male hustlers/prostitutes, but of his sexual harassment of his own priests," she said. "Truly, the vileness must be eradicated. The fox is truly guarding the hen house around here and it is about time somebody spoke out about the truth."

Brady read a letter from Bergen and handed out a transcript of his interview with Elraghy. Reporters picked at Elraghy and Bergen's credibility, prompting one attendee to complain they were being unfair. Thomas Droleskey, a writer for the Catholic newspaper The Wanderer, chided the local reporters. "You have the names of two people who were part of the street life of this city. They have said that there are others who have knowledge of all this. Do your job as investigative reporters." But, as with the first RCF press event in 1997, this one didn't lead to news coverage.

While the diocesan chancery denied that Ryan was a homosexual predator, some of his clergy knew better. One priest, who was removed from ministry for sexual misconduct with two adults, told a fellow cleric: "If you ever want to scare the bishop, mention the name Frank Robert Bergen."[10]

While Bergen's credibility kept his story out of local media, RCF located more accusers. John Rossicoe, known on the street as "Peanut," said he was only 15 when Ryan first paid him for sex. Rossicoe, like Bergen, had a troubled past that landed him in prison – the Centralia Correctional Institution. He had been an alcoholic; on the street since age 13. His left arm bore scars from stab wounds. A tattoo on his abdomen read, "No Fear." He was convicted in 1996 of theft of a firearm and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. He told Brady the prostitution with Bishop Ryan was only about the $100 per session paid by The Bish. After about five paid visits, he cut off the relationship because he said it made him sick. "He could not stand the idea of doing that in a church with a bishop," the RCF report said.[11] "The bishop knew that he was wrong by messing with us when we were young," Rossicoe said.[12]

Brady located the man who wrote the anonymous letter to the State Journal-Register. He was Dale D. Daniels, 66, a retired paint salesman and Springfield rental-property owner. In the letter, Daniels identified Danny Evans, 32, as the bishop's latest young male friend who received all sorts of largesse in exchange for sex. Daniels began faxing intelligence to RCF. On July 30, 1998, he wrote how Evans bragged about his "date" that night. Ryan "was taking him out to eat dinner at a real nice eating place and they will go out on the town, but he didn't say what town," the fax read. "Then afterward ... fun ... fun and more fun all at the expense of the Catlic (sic) church."[13]

Before long, Brady located Evans' landlord and learned that Bishop Ryan had been paying the rent. He obtained copies of cancelled checks. He contacted Evans' ex-wife, Robin, and she agreed to supply information. The next day, she told Brady, Bishop Ryan came to her house. He wanted the cancelled rent checks that Danny left at her home. He pressured her to call the state's attorney and file a complaint against Brady and RCF. "He is a troublemaker," Ryan said, according to Evans. Then the conversation turned very dark. Ryan looked at Robin and said, "You know I can damage you." Ryan called her twice at work: once warning her not to speak to Brady and once to offer her money to keep quiet, the report said. She refused.[14]

Robin Evans told Brady that Bishop Ryan molested Danny years before when he was an altar boy at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. During their one-year marriage, she said, Ryan picked Danny up almost weekly, saying he needed to borrow her husband for a project or errand. Danny came home hours later with groceries, household items or cash. She never had to buy diapers for their baby; Bishop Ryan took care of it.

Several months after Robin gave a statement to RCF, Brady met with Danny outside of a Hardee's restaurant. He told Danny that RCF knew all about the sex-for-money arrangement with the bishop. Danny agreed to give a sworn statement. By the end of the afternoon, he confirmed what Brady already knew. Evans later said he went to motels with Ryan more than 50 times for paid sex, and traveled with the bishop around the U.S. and in Europe. Evans passed a lie-detector test administered by an FBI-trained polygraph examiner.

The Ryan investigation was rocked on March 4, 1998, when Father Kunz, RCF's canon-law adviser, was found brutally murdered at St. Michael School in the village of Dane, Wis. Kunz's throat had been slashed and he was left to bleed to death in the hallway outside his office in the parish school. Kunz's work for RCF in exposing pederasty and sexual corruption was an immediate focus of the investigation. In late March 1998, detectives from the Dane County Sheriff's Office traveled to Springfield, where they interviewed Bishop Ryan and twice spoke to Brady. They also interviewed Bergen and some of the priests who had accused Ryan of sexual abuse. Detectives would, in time, decide Kunz's work for RCF was likely not related to the murder, although it has not been officially ruled out. The murder remains unsolved. [See the author's three part series on the Kunz investigation.]

Father Hardon told Brady he was firmly convinced the Kunz murder was "church-related." Hardon also told a group of students, "I can safely say he was not just murdered, he was martyred."[15] After the murder, Hardon telephoned Father R. Doe (who had informed on Bishop Ryan to RCF and the Vatican) to tell him to lay low and speak to no one. Wisconsin detectives interviewed Hardon at his office near Detroit. Brady was the subject of several threats on his life while investigating corruption in the Church. He purchased a bulletproof vest after Kunz was murdered. In 2001, Brady was tipped off that he was "marked for assassination" by homosexual elements in the Church.[16] The FBI investigated, but no arrests were made.

Was Bishop Ryan capable of murder, or ordering a hit on Father Kunz for helping RCF expose pederasty in the Catholic Church? One witness claimed Ryan threatened to kill Frank Bergen. Darrell Wilson, a onetime male prostitute who said he serviced Bishop Ryan, told the mother of one of his children about the threat in late December 1997. "He said Frank Bergen was blackmailing the bishop and said Ryan threatened to kill Bergen," the RCF report said.[17] His onetime girlfriend said Wilson feared he could also be killed if he spoke up about his prostitution with Bishop Ryan.[18]

End Notes

[1] Author's interview with Sandra (Elraghy) Fuiten, Oct. 21, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Transcript of Sandra Elraghy interview with Stephen G. Brady, Dec. 12, 1997, Springfield, Ill., Page 2.

[4] Ibid, Page 8.

[5] "Illinois Priest Removed for Homosexual Porn, Misappropriating $29,000," Joseph M. Hanneman, Catholic World Report, September 8, 2018.

[6] Letter from Jimmy M. Lago, special assistant to Archbishop Francis E. George, to Stephen G. Brady, Roman Catholic Faithful, faxed from Archdiocese of Chicago, Dec. 24, 1997.

[7] Letter from James M. Bendell, attorney at law, to Jimmy M. Lago, executive assistant to Archbishop Francis George, sent via fax, Jan. 6, 1998.

[8] Diocese of Springfield, "Bishop Daniel Ryan (1984-1999)," https://www.dio.org/about/history-of-the-diocese-of-springfield.html#dryan; accessed July 9, 2019.

[9] Email exchange between "E.F." and the author, July 15, 2019.

[10] Introduction, Roman Catholic Faithful report to Robert Bennett, Esq., Office for Child & Youth Protection, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 14, 2003, Page 6 of 8.

[11] Timeline of events, Roman Catholic Faithful, Page 11 of 18, submitted to Robert Bennett, Esq., Office for Child & Youth Protection, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 14, 2003.

[12] John Rossicoe letter to Stephen G. Brady, Roman Catholic Faithful, Petersburg, Ill., Feb. 25, 1998; contained in Bennett Report, Part 5, Page 66.

[13] "Bishop Ryan Sexual Allegations," Anonymous letter sent to Ralph Loos, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill,. Feb. 15, 1997.

[14] Timeline of events, Roman Catholic Faithful, Page 14 of 18, submitted to Robert Bennett, Esq., Office for Child & Youth Protection, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, March 14, 2003.

[15] MP3 recording of class lecture by Father Hardon, John A. Hardon, S.J. Audio Archives, The Real Presence Association (therealpresence.org), downloaded April 29, 2018.

[16] "For your info and interest," e-mail from (redacted) to Stephen G. Brady, September 7, 2001.

[17] Notes from conversations with Sandra Elraghy, Page 2, December 1997; Stephen G. Brady, Roman Catholic Faithful, Petersburg Ill.

[18] The author's interview with Sandra (Elraghy) Fuiten, Oct. 21, 2019.

––––––––––––––––


(Originally published at Church Militant.)
© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He also has an Associate in Applied Science degree in business management from Triton College. Abbott has been interviewed on MSNBC, Bill Martinez Live, WOSU Radio in Ohio, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's 'Unsolved' podcast, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) and WISC-TV (CBS) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and other media outlets. In 2005 and 2006, he was among the first writers to expose former cardinal Theodore McCarrick's abuse of power with and sexual harassment of seminarians. He can be reached at
mattcabbott@gmail.com.

(Note: I welcome thoughtful feedback and story ideas. If you want our correspondence to remain confidential, please specify as such in your initial email to me. However, I reserve the right to forward and/or publish emails that are accusatory, insulting or threatening in nature, even if they're marked confidential. Also, if you give me permission to publish a quote of yours, please do not contact me at a later time to request that I delete your name. Only in limited circumstances will I quote anonymous sources. Thank you and God bless!)

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