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Former Geneva priest accused of molestation at Aurora church

ROCKFORD – A lawsuit filed Tuesday accuses a priest, formerly of churches in Geneva, Crystal Lake and Johnsburg, of sexually abusing a 7- to 9-year-old child while assigned to an Aurora church

The lawsuit names the Rev. John C. Holdren, who retired in 1994 from St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Johnsburg where he spent 10 years as a priest. He also spent six years at St. Thomas the Apostle in Crystal Lake in the 1970s. Holdren also served at St. Peter in Geneva from 1981 to 1983.

According to the lawsuit, Holdren sexually abused the victim, including through inappropriate touching and acts of penetration, when Holdren was a priest at St. Rita of Cascia in Aurora from 1972 to 1973.

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford was notified of the lawsuit Tuesday, spokeswoman Penny Wiegert said, adding that the diocese didn't have a comment as of Wednesday afternoon. Holdren retired as a pastor in 1994 and remains unassigned and not working as a priest, she said.

An unnamed 49-year-old man is the sole complainant in the lawsuit, his attorney Tim Freiberg said, adding that in other similar cases he's filed, others have come forward after the fact.

"What I see in a lot of these cases is the memory of the abuse doesn’t come back for years, and it's usually triggered by an event," Freiberg said, pointing in this case, to the man learning that several of his friends had also been abused, moving out of state to Maryland where he began seeing a therapist and reading about other instances of abuse in the Catholic Church.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and Voice of the Faithful, a group that works to support victims of clergy sexual abuse, plan on developing a flier to be distributed at the parishes where Holdren was assigned.

The statute of limitations on cases of child sexual abuse is 20 years from 18th birthday of the child or 10 years from when the abuse is remembered, Freiberg said, adding that the five other similar cases he's handled have survived motions to dismiss based on the statute of limitations.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages of at least $50,000 from the diocese, St. Rita of Cascia and Holdren, arguing that the diocese and church is liable because the policies they adopted "enabled and emboldened" Holdren because he "knew any complaints about his conduct would be minimized and he would be protected from public disclosure."

The lawsuit also alleges that those at the church and diocese had been informed that Holdren was a "serious threat to the physical and mental well being" of children and concealed that knowledge.

The leaders of the diocese "placed concern for the Church’s reputation and financial well being over the safety and well being of its parishioners and children everywhere," the complaint said.

- Kane County Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory contributing

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