CHICAGO –– The Archdiocese of Chicago Jan. 15 released more than 6,000 pages of documents related to cases involving 30 priests accused of sexual abuse.
In the majority of the cases, the abuse occurred before 1988 and all were referred to civil authorities.
The documents were given to Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney for abuse victims. Anderson is expected to make the files public the week of Jan. 26.
Fourteen of the 30 priests have died and all but two have been laicized. The documents reveal the story of the priests, the abuse, information the archdiocese had and what action they took.
The archdiocese released the documents as part of a mediation agreement signed in 2006. In the eight years since, lawyers for the victims, priests and the archdiocese culled through the documents to remove anything that would violate the privacy of victims. Nothing was removed relating the identity of the priests or there supervisors, said John O’Malley, director of legal services for the archdiocese, during a news conference at the Archbishop Quigley Center.
“The information is upsetting. The information is painful. It’s difficult to read, even without the benefit of hindsight,” O’Malley said. “We believe however that this step is an important step in the process of transparency.”
On its website, www.archchicago.org, the archdiocese lists the names of 65 priests with substantiated accusations of abuse. O’Malley said the archdiocese is working to create a process to release the documents related to all 65 priests. Over a 25-year period, the archdiocese has paid out approximately $100 million in settlements. Those funds come from the sale of property owned by the archdiocese.
During the news conference, Auxiliary Bishop Francis J. Kane, vicar general, apologized to victims on behalf of the archdiocese and said that “what we are doing now, I hope that it will bring healing and hope to people that have been affected by these terrible sins and crimes.”
“I want to assure the public that no priest with even one substantiated accusation of child abuse against him serves in public ministry in the archdiocese,” Bishop Kane said.
Priests who belong to religious communities are not included in the archdiocese’s list since their records belong to their own communities.
“Any priest who is now assigned to Chicago, we have the assurance of their provincial or superior that they are people who have gone through background checks, that they are safe to be assigned to a ministry in Chicago,” Bishop Kane said.
However, if the archdiocese received an allegation against a religious priest, it would be turned over to the authorities, O’Malley added.
The documents released Jan. 15 will show that the archdiocese did make some mistakes in these cases, Bishop Kane said.
“I don’t think that any of them were intended to promote or allow child abuse to continue. How we treated people back then is different than we do today,” he said.
And the opinion from medical professionals that sexual abusers can go through therapy and resume ministry under supervision has also changed, the bishop said.
“We’ve strengthened our procedures to be sure that we don’t allow anyone to slip through the cracks if we can help it,” he said.
In 1992, the archdiocese adopted formal policies for handling clergy sexual abuse of children. It was one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so.
“We believe that handling these matters in a way that is compassionate toward victims and is focused on finding and telling the truth is the only way to approach this,” said Jan Slattery, director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, which deals with allegations of sexual abuse.
“Because the compulsion to abuse is present in 4 percent of the general male population, about the same percentage you see in the priest population, I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of these cases,” Slattery told the media. “But we work every day to stop it.”
When an accusation is made today, it is reported to the authorities, referred to the archdiocese’s Office Child Abuse Investigations and Review and the person is offered outreach services. If the accusation is made against a priest, he is asked to step aside until an independent investigation is completed by an outside firm. The investigation results are then turned over to an independent review board, which makes a recommendation to Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George.
Since 2003, the office has trained 160,000 priests, deacons, lay employees and volunteers to recognize and prevent abuse and conducted background checks on these groups. More than 200,000 children have been trained to “pay attention when something doesn’t feel right,” report it to an adult and get out of the situation, Slattery said.
The archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee, to come forward. It has posted complete information about reporting sexual abuse at www.archchicago.org/departments/protection/protection.shtm.
Duriga is editor of the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Chicago Archdiocese.