Monday, October 22, 2007


The Peoria Journal Star had an article this morning about silence from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

Too bad it is true.

Diocese's silence doesn't benefit the flock

Michael Miller
Saturday, October 20, 2007

The silence coming from 607 NE Madison Ave., Peoria, is nearly as deafening as the bells that ring on Sundays next door at St. Mary's Cathedral.
Catholic Diocese of Peoria press releases are almost nonexistent these days. That wouldn't be a big deal if things weren't going on, but they are. We used to cover some diocesan events when we knew about them. At the least, we could let you know about them.

Lately, nobody's telling us about them.

Last week, I asked diocesan director of communications Elizabeth Smarjesse why the diocese doesn't send out press releases much anymore. There was no response.

This is just one example of an occasional but confounding lack of communications by the diocese.

In the past two years, for instance, the diocese also has only intermittently agreed to allow Journal Star reporters to interview its personnel, even for innocuous features. Contact with Bishop Daniel Jenky himself has been nearly impossible. Why? Possibly because of what the diocese called in one statement "negative" and "unfair" coverage, though it didn't go into any specifics.

I called a few others in the news media who cover the diocese to see if they had noticed the institution's subterranean profile. Generally they said they weren't having that many problems. Jim Garrott, news director at WEEK-TV, said a decrease in press releases appeared to be cyclical. Jonathan Ahl, news director at WCBU-FM, said diocesan communications were "so-so," but also said officials were "responsive."

Reporter Leon Lagerstam at the Dispatch/Argus in the Quad Cities has had much the same experiences I've had, though.

"If it weren't for (vicar general) Monsignor (Paul) Showalter, I'd have no luck at all when it comes to communicating with the diocese," Lagerstam said. "He's been my sole reprieve when needing something."

It's not just the media getting the cold shoulder from the diocese, though. Some victims of clergy sexual abuse, especially those representing the Survivors Network

of Those Abused by Priests, haven't been able to get a response from Jenky to their entreaties.

A rare communication by the diocese last spring and a recent sermon by Jenky, though, may offer an insight into the institution's attitude.

After the diocese denied me an interview with Jenky for a story on his first five years as bishop here, a statement was issued that said, "The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria will continue to reserve the right to communicate with his own flock and with neighbors of good will in a manner that he deems appropriate."

Jenky recently continued the theme of communicating with "his own flock" in a sermon at an Erin Feis Mass in late August.

"Now, our local press has sometimes complained about the pronouncements of the One, Holy, Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, and they even sometimes comment on the preaching at Mass of your Bishop, even though my words are really only directed to you, the members of my own flock, entrusted to my care, through the grace of God and the favor of the Apostolic See," he said according to the text of the sermon in the Sept. 2 issue of The Catholic Post.

Jenky's words may be "only directed" to Catholics, but they are sometimes heard by others through the Post or when we are able to cover a diocesan event. What Dan Jenky says is news. After all, he is leader of the largest religious group in central Illinois. What that institution and its leadership does has an influence on this area.

In the media, we try to cover that influence and sometimes ask challenging questions and write about unpleasant things. It may seem unfair that we do so, but I don't know of any religious group that's completely happy with how it's covered in the news media. With a group as large as the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, there's going to be some negative, but we also have covered much that is positive.

Trying to keep a below-the-horizon profile is, I realize, one way to respond to negative press, but the community is the poorer for it when the media aren't notified of diocesan events, when diocesan experts are barred by leadership from speaking to the press and when the leadership itself goes silent.

MICHAEL MILLER covers religion for the Journal Star. Write to him in care of the Journal Star, 1 News Plaza, Peoria, IL 61643, call him at 686-3106, or send e-mail to Comments may be published.

John A. Carroll, MD – Peoria October 20, 2007 - 11:48
Subject: Silence
Our Catholic leaders are very sensitive to any criticism right now. Silence is golden and very frustrating if you are a reporter and want the thoughts of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

Mike Miller reports, “What Dan Jenky says is news. After all, he is leader of the largest religious group in central Illinois. What that institution and its leadership does has an influence on this area.”

This is very true and Haitian Hearts experienced this several years ago as Bishop Jenky turned his back on Haitian children.

When Haitian Hearts requested a Catholic Tribunal Court against OSF for denying Haitian children medical care, the Catholic Diocese of Peoria threatened me, asked me if I realized that OSF was a 1.6 billion dollar “industry”, and Bishop Jenky told me that he would not judge against OSF.

Haitian children are now suffering and dying as they are denied care at OSF.

My brother has written four eloquent letters to Bishop Jenky in the last five years asking for his intervention on important local Catholic issues. Bishop Jenky hasn’t responded to any letter.

I believe that Bishop Jenky is doing all he can to protect the Diocese and OSF and does not want to suffer the wrath of the Peoria business community, which includes OSF, and lose financial contributions to the Diocese.

A prominent local Catholic monsignor confided to Haitian Hearts that the Diocese would “stick together”. Obedience to the Bishop is of utmost importance.

Bishop Jenky has no good honest answers to questions that could be asked by the media about important local issues. Therefore, silence is his “answer”. And that puts the Catholic Diocese and the laity in an even worse position.

Norma Villarreal October 20, 2007 - 08:36
Subject: lack of communication
Thank you for quoting the statement that "the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria reserves the right to communicate with his flock and neighbors of good will as he deems appropriate." It seems that you, as a reporter, may not fall into either category. Maintaining silence and the lack of communication from the diocese raises suspicions and questions. I would like for the bishop to provide straightforward and clear communication to the public whether "we belong to his flock or not."

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