Lovell’s problems began in 2010, three years after he was ordained. According to a case summary prepared by his attorney, Lovell’s suitability for the priesthood was questioned after he was the subject of several complaints, though none constituted criminal behavior.
The attorney, canon law specialist the Rev. Pius Pietrzyk, told the Tribune that some incidents — buying a cassock for a seminarian who couldn’t afford one, or reserving a hotel conference room where alumni of a Catholic high school club could play cards — were viewed as boundary violations.
Lovell denied doing anything improper, and said he thinks the complaints were payback for reporting a fellow teacher for inappropriate contact with a student.
He was ordered to get a psychological evaluation at a counseling center that serves Catholic clergy. In a letter following the evaluation, former Rockford Bishop Thomas Doran wrote: “I regard the present case of Father Lovell as concluded and no further action on the allegations therein is warranted.”
But Pietrzyk said that when Bishop David Malloy was appointed to lead the diocese in 2012, he took a different view of the case, issuing decrees that restricted Lovell’s ability to perform his clerical duties.
Lovell remains a priest but can’t celebrate Mass or hear confession. He said his pay and benefits were reduced, and after he was banned from diocesan housing, he had to move into his father’s house in the south suburbs and take odd jobs. (Wiegert said pay and housing depends on a priest’s status.)
Pietrzyk said appeals to Rome have been fruitless, and that Malloy has declined to outline his concerns or how Lovell can address them.
“I just simply do not understand why, legally speaking, John has been shunted out of ministry like this,” he said. “It boggles my mind.”
Wiegert declined to address Lovell’s allegations, saying the diocese doesn’t comment on personnel matters.
Kelly O’Donnell, a California-based canon lawyer who is not involved in Lovell’s case, said the hierarchy can remove priests permanently — a process known as laicizing or defrocking — only if they have committed a crime or a serious offense against the church, such as preaching heresy.