The following comes from an April 29 story by Jim Graves in Catholic World Report.
The story starts out describing the letter to Pope Francis from “prominent Catholics’ that ran as a full-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle.
…. 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 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.
During both the criminal investigation and the lawsuit, Father Illo remained a priest in good standing at St. Joseph’s. He continued as the pastor there for five years after the lawsuit was settled. He was made parish administrator of Star of the Sea Parish in San Francisco by Archbishop Cordileone in 2014.
Father Illo has been directed by Archbishop Cordileone not to speak to the media about the lawsuit. However, parishioners from St. Joseph’s have gone on record in defense of their former pastor.
On April 25, many parishioners of St. Joseph’s drove 100 miles to attend a Saturday evening vigil Mass (nicknamed a “Mass Mob”) to show their support for Father Illo. CWR spoke to some of those present about what happened at St. Joseph’s more than a decade ago.
Modesto resident Malissa Souza has been attending St. Joseph’s since 1969. She said she attended the civil trial and did not believe the testimony given against the priests, nor, as far as she knows, did any other parishioners. She said the mother of the accuser had pursued a romantic relationship with Father Illo, who had refused her advances. These details were reported by local media during the trial and were mentioned in court documents and by other St. Joseph parishioners who spoke to CWR, but were missing from many of the most recent media reports on the case.
Father Illo revitalized St. Joseph’s when he arrived in 2000, Souza said. Under his leadership, the parish grew “by leaps and bounds.”
Father Arakal also has kept the support of the St. Joseph community, she said. “The people requested we get [Father Arakal] back,” she said, “and he has since returned to the parish.”
Donna Elson, also of Modesto, served as Father Illo’s secretary at St. Joseph’s for eight years. She attended the Mass Mob to let Father Illo know “that we love him and care about him.”
She noted, “He is a very holy and traditional priest, and sticks strictly to Catholic teaching. He has a love for the poor, and increased our volunteer participation in the St. Vincent de Paul Society from one to 30 volunteers. He was compassionate, and would always drop what he was doing to rush to the hospital if he was called to anoint someone.”
One of the ministries he introduced, she said, was St. Joseph’s Bread, a program to feed the homeless. She also noted his Marian devotion and said he had introduced Masses in different languages for members of different ethnic communities.
One group he did rile, she said, were the pro-choice Catholics in the parish. When he arrived, he began preaching against abortion. Elson said, “The pro-choice parishioners approached him and asked him to stop. He said no, that it was Church teaching and that he was going to talk about it. So the pro-choice people left.”
Father Arakal was away from St. Joseph’s for six months while the police investigated the abuse claims, Elson explained, but was allowed to return when no criminal charges were filed. “He’s a wonderful priest,” she added. “No one believes the allegations….”