Suit claims Catholic priest impregnated parishioner then coerced her into abortion

Steve Gonzalez Apr. 2, 2008, 8:59am

An Edwardsville woman filed a civil suit against a Catholic priest she claims impregnated her then coerced her into an abortion.

Holly Force is joined in the suit by her husband, Chris Force, against the Rev. Thomas Szydlik and Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

According to the complaint filed March 31 in Madison County Circuit Court, the Forces attended Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in the Peoria Diocese from September 2000 until June 2006.

Szydlik was the assistant pastor of the church from June 2004 through June 2005, the complaint states.

According to the complaint, Szydlik heard Holly Force's confession on Nov. 21, 2004. She spoke of marital difficulties, including conflicts about birth control.

In a previous confession, Szydlik learned that the sexual aspects of her marriage were troubled and that she also suffered from a severe medical condition which exacerbated those problems, the complaint states.

Holly Force claims that Szydlik developed a scheme to make every effort to get her further involved in church activities and during those instances would "continuously bring up Holly's personal situation and seek deeper engagement with her" and encouraged her to confide in and trust him.

"Szydlik used information received in confession to prey upon Holly and Chris thereby violating one of his most sacred responsibilities," the complaint states.

Holly Force claims that Szydlik used e-mail, telephone and face-to-face confrontations to "groom and intimidate" her into submission and never missed a chance to lead her into believing whatever she and Szydlik did or said was "excused" because he was saving her soul.

The complaint states that in January 2005, she informed her husband of the relationship with Szydlik. Chris Force confronted Szydlik, who then apologized to Chris.

According to the complaint, Szydlik informed the bishop of his inappropriate behavior with a parishioner and was reassigned to another church.

According to Holly Force, before his transfer on June 2, Szydlik kissed her on April 15, 2005, and suggested that she buy the "Christian Prayer" so that they could pray together.

"Holly and Szydlik began to pray together on a near daily basis," the complaint states.

The complaint states that during May 2005, Szydlik appeared at her home to "kiss her like he really wanted to kiss her."

"During these encounters, as Szydlik later told Holly, Szydlik would ejaculate," the complaint states.

She claims that after Szydlik left St. Vincent, there was no additional physical contact until September 2005. She also claims at various times Szydlik informed her that he would leave the priesthood and marry her following her divorce from Chris.

The Forces claim they moved to Edwardsville in part to distance themselves from Szydlik. However in 2006, Szydlik moved to Edwardsville where he lived for three-to-four months and continued to engage in inappropriate behavior.

Holly Force claims Szydlik would tell her that he was in the process of purchasing a home for them to live in.

"On April 2, 2006, Szydlik engaged in intercourse with Holly which was nonconsensual on her part," the complaint states. "As a result of the intercourse, Holly became pregnant."

Holly claims in May 2006, she informed Szydlik that she was pregnant and he allegedly told her that he wanted to marry her as soon as he left the priesthood.

"In July 2006, Szydlik decided not to leave the priesthood and told Holly 'if there is not a baby, there is not a problem,'" the complaint states.

Holly claims she terminated the pregnancy by abortion "due to coercion by Szydlik" in July 2006.

She claims their relationship ended after the abortion.

Holly claims Szydlik, as priest and spiritual director, manipulated her feelings and actions by "misusing God's intent" in the relationship knowing of her illness, vulnerability and deep spiritual faith.

Holly claims Szydlik would tell her "God has brought us together for some reason" and that their relationship was something "God wanted."

"Szydlik used 'God's will' against Holly, abusing her faith and trust, when she trusted Szydlik as a priest who, therefore, was correct in interpreting God's real intent," the complaint states.

The Forces allege that neither Bishop Jenky nor the diocese took adequate action to ensure that Szydlik was no longer having the inappropriate relationship.

They claim that Bishop Jenky violated his duty by negligently failing to intervene, investigate, monitor or supervise Szydlik's conduct.

Holly Force claims that as a result of the incident she sustained severe emotional injuries and distress, has and will continue to spend large sums of money on therapy and has and will continue to suffer the loss of a normal life.

Chris Force also claims he has sustained emotional injuries and distress, requires therapy and also has been deprived of Holly's consortium.

Represented by David Leefers of Jacksonville, Holly and Chris are seeking damages in excess of $2.5 million, plus costs.

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