Parents at a Catholic elementary school in San Francisco renewed calls this week for the ouster of the parish’s controversial pastor after details emerged of a decade-old case in which he emotionally distressed a young girl at his former parish in Modesto.
The civil case, settled in San Joaquin County Superior Court in 2005, found that the Rev. Joseph Illo inflicted emotional distress on the 11-year-old girl while at St. Joseph’s Parish in Modesto. The incident occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, when the girl reported alleged sexual misconduct by another priest working under Illo.
Illo is now the parish administrator of Star of the Sea parish in The City.
The girl had gone to the rectory at St. Joseph’s to report the alleged sexual abuse of herself and her sister to Illo, the pastor of Father Francis Arakal, who was accused of the abuse. The lawsuit states that Illo in turn called the girl a liar and yelled at her, causing emotional distress. The girl was ultimately awarded $20,000 in damages.
Upon reading the plaintiffs’ settlement conference statement and judgment this week, parents at the K-8 school Star of the Sea Elementary School expressed further outrage over the latest clash between Illo and members of the school community. Previously, parents were upset about a new policy to no longer train girls as altar servers and the distribution of sexually explicit pamphlets to children before confession.
“If true, in my opinion, the parents of the school are owed an explanation and assurances as to the safety of their children,” Bob Regan, whose daughter attends Star of the Sea, said in response to the court documents.
However, hundreds of parishioners are voicing support for Illo, who they say has revived the Star of the Sea parish since arriving in August. In fact, within the past month a petition with more than 500 signatures was delivered to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone urging that Illo be kept in the parish.
“He’s a very dynamic and vigorous guy,” said Vivian Dudro, a parishioner who has known Illo for 25 years. “If there’s anybody who can pump new life into this church, it’s Father Illo.”
Dudro called the civil case from Modesto “an unfortunate situation” but that there was no misbehavior on Illo’s part.
“I’m a mother, and I don’t doubt that the child would have felt at the very least uncomfortable and intimidated in a situation like that,” Dudro said. “However, I believe from the bottom of my being that Father Illo would have never intended harm of a child, ever.”
Larry Kamer, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said parents are encouraged to express any concerns directly with the parish and archdiocese.
“Any matter concerning even the allegation of abuse is something the church takes quite seriously,” Kamer said. “In this particular case, the police and the jury both found that there was never any abuse and the matter was resolved on other issues.”