PEORIA — In spite of the Catholic church’s decades-long entanglements in sex abuse scandals, parishioners of St. Ann Church were still jolted by news that their pastor, the Rev. Terry Cassidy, was the subject of allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor.
“It’s shocking. People are just bewildered and confused. It’s just not a good thing,” said John Carlson, a member of St. Ann, where Cassidy has served as pastor since 1999.
The Catholic Diocese of Peoria announced Aug. 26 that Cassidy had been removed from public ministry in light of accusations dating back nearly 30 years. It’s not clear where or when the alleged misconduct occurred, not even if it happened in Illinois.
Carlson and the Rev. John Blossom, a local Episcopal priest, indicated Cassidy’s support and popularity cross denominational lines because of his work in the Cursillo movement.
For parishioners, learning of the allegations through media reports was like hearing bad news about a beloved family member, Carlson said.
“Father Terry was always so open about everything,” he continued. “To my knowledge, there were no secrets, and all of a sudden this comes out of the blue.”
“It’s truly affected everybody there,” Carlson added. “Sunday was a clear example. There were a lot of tears and frustration.”
About 200 people attended the 11 a.m. Mass Sunday, according to Carlson, where they were told by Monsignor Paul Showalter that Cassidy would remain the church’s official pastor during an investigation, but an administrator would be named to take over his duties.
Cassidy “can no longer function as a Catholic priest in any public capacity, wear clerical garb or the Roman collar, and is to refrain from using the title Reverend or Father,” according to the news release issued by the diocese last week.
Showalter did a good job of allaying fears in a bad situation, Carlson said, but there are still many unanswered questions.
A spokeswoman for the diocese reiterated the no-further-comment position to a series of questions emailed to the diocese earlier this week. The spokeswoman, Patricia Gibson, added the diocese had contacted the police department and the state’s attorney’s office and was working with them cooperatively.
Peoria County State’ Attorney Jerry Brady said Gibson contacted him about last week about the procedure for filing a police report. Peoria Assistant Police Chief Mike Eddlemon said the Police Department is also working with the diocese.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services does not have any reports on file involving Cassidy, Eddlemon said in an email. “To my knowledge, the alleged incident did not occur in Peoria or Illinois, for that matter.”
Blossom said the diocese’s unwillingness to provide any details on the allegations struck him as unfair and odd.
While he called sexual misconduct “reprehensible to say the least,” Blossom also said he had never seen Cassidy do anything to make him suspicious.
Blossom has known Cassidy more than 20 years, primarily through Cursillo, of which Cassidy had served as spiritual adviser since 2006. Cassidy served as spiritual adviser of Teens Encounter Christ, the teenage version of Cursillo, from 2006 to 2013.
“He’s an innovative, caring, creative priest who’s contemporary in his views of the liturgy, which might be part of the reason the diocese is so quick to throw him under the bus,” Blossom said. “The diocese of Peoria has become ultra-conservative, which makes Father Terry stand out.”
Cassidy has served at 16 churches throughout the 26-county diocese since 1984, including four in Peoria. In some cases, he was assigned to several churches at the same time, though he never served more than four years except at St. Ann.
The diocese credited its Protecting God’s Children Program for its impact on the safety of children throughout the diocese.
Cassidy’s style drew parishioners to the south side church from as far away as Metamora and Pekin. Carlson counted himself among those drawn to St. Ann.
“I choose to go there,” Carlson said. “I was drawn to that parish. I think Father Terry was a large part of the draw.”
Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @padamspam.