Attacks on San Francisco Priest Aim to Test Abp. Cordileone | Jim Graves and CWR Staff | Catholic World Report
Recent reports about accusations made 10 years ago against Fr. Joseph Illo leave out key facts and misrepresent the subsequent court case.
The embattled pastor of a San Francisco parish has been the target of an unrelenting campaign aimed at pressuring Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to oust him. At the same time, the charges against Father Joseph Illo are being used as part of a larger effort to lobby Pope Francis to remove the archbishop, according to local observers. This week, the Archdiocese of San Francisco quietly announced that a priest has been assigned as chaplain at the parish’s school.
The connection between the efforts to push out both priest and archbishop became national news when more than 100 “prominent Catholics” published a full-page open letter to Pope Francis in the April 16 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. “Please replace Archbishop Cordileone,” the letter asked the Pope. Many of the signers are known to oppose Catholic teaching on marriage.
Among the letter’s grievances against the archbishop was his selection of Father Illo as the pastor of Star of the Sea Parish. Father Illo “marginalizes women’s participation in the church by banning girls from altar service,” the letter claimed (Father Illo explained his altar-server policy to CWR in January; he later agreed to let girls serve as acolytes at school Masses at Star of the Sea, while retaining his “boys-only” policy for parish Masses, as this move had been welcomed by regular Mass-goers). Father Illo also “inexplicably distributed to elementary school children an age-inappropriate and potentially abusive, sexually-oriented pamphlet,” the letter states (Father Illo apologized for the incident as an “oversight” and said the pamphlet—an examination of conscience—should have been given to the parents instead of the children). Finally, the letter to the Holy Father alleges that Father Illo has a “troubled history of questionable judgment as a pastor outside our diocese.”
It now appears that the “troubled history” ascribed to Father Illo refers to a civil settlement from a decade ago. Certain documents concerning the case were recently distributed to parents and teachers at Star of the Sea School, and a series of local media reports indicate that some parents have renewed calls for Father Illo’s removal in light of this case. This week the archdiocese announced that Father Vito J. Perone has been assigned as chaplain at Star of the Sea School, although Father Illo has not been removed from his post as parish administrator.
In March 2005, a San Joaquin County Superior Court jury found that Father Illo had inflicted emotional distress on an 11-year-old girl who had accused his associate pastor, Father Francis Arakal, of sexual misconduct in September 2001. A criminal investigation after the girl’s accusation had found no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Father Arakal, but the following year the girl’s mother filed a lawsuit against Father Arakal, Father Illo, and the Diocese of Stockton, alleging sexual battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.