Chicago Archdiocese releasing child sex abuse files on 36 more priests
In a statement on the church’s website announcing the release of some 15,000 pages of once-secret documents, George said the Archdiocese of Chicago was “concerned first and foremost with bringing healing to abuse victims.”
“We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue,” George said. “Child abuse is a crime and a sin.”
The release of the priest files is one of George’s last acts as he prepares for retirement in less than two weeks and is part of an effort by the archdiocese to put the long-running scandal behind it.
Together with documents on more than two dozen priests released in January, the new files represent the archdiocese’s fullest public accounting of 63 of its priests who church officials found abused 352 children since 1950. The archdiocese has paid about $130 million to settle claims by victims, money raised largely through borrowing and selling church land.
The January files, made public as part of a settlement with victims, provided fresh details into how, for decades, the nation’s third-largest archdiocese quietly transferred accused priests from parish to parish, and how church officials failed to tell law enforcement about accusations that priests had sexually abused boys and girls.
The new files reflect the archdiocese’s continuing commitment to truth and accountability, said Bishop Francis Kane, the archdiocese’s vicar general, who said he was “still shocked and certainly ashamed” by the abuse.
“As we look at these documents, it’s a horrible thing and I don’t think that most priests had any idea these other men were doing this terrible thing,” Kane told the Tribune’s Editorial Board last week.
But Peggy Hough, of Evanston, who said the priest at her church in Glenview had abused her in the 1960s, said the archdiocese is not doing enough to make right decades of wrongdoing by priests and secrecy by top officials.
Hough said she was abused by the Rev. Eugene Burns beginning when she was 8 years old and he was pastor at St. Catherine Laboure Catholic Church. Burns died in 2005, and Hough received a settlement from the archdiocese.
“The archdiocese is behaving as if this is such a great thing they are doing and (Cardinal) George’s legacy,” said Hough, 60. “But my question is, what took so long? Their secrecy has allowed this to perpetuate as long as it has and for more kids to be abused.”
With the release of the new documents, the archdiocese anticipated more victims coming forward. After the files were made public in January, about 60 people came forward with accusations of abuse, said Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese’s office for the protection of children and youth.
Slattery said those accusations involved priests already removed from ministry based on previous allegations, and that the church was continuing to look into those accusations.
Among the 36 priests identified as part of Thursday’s scheduled document release, none is in active ministry and nine have been laicized, meaning they are no longer priests. Fourteen have died.
The files total do not include medical or mental health records, information protected by attorney-client privilege or that identifies victims or independent witnesses, church officials said.
The church has now released files on 63 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing children. The church deems an accusation credible if there is “reasonable cause” to believe the abuse occurred. In addition, the January documents included the files of three priests named in lawsuits but for whom allegations were never substantiated or published previously by the archdiocese.
The archdiocese did not release files of two priests. Convicted abuser Daniel McCormack’s files have been sealed by a judge as part of a lawsuit. The files of the Rev. Edward Maloney, who has been removed from public ministry, have not been released because his case is on appeal within the church.
George has admitted mishandling McCormack’s case. Police arrested McCormack in 2005 after a 10-year-old boy said the priest had fondled him. Police found the boy believable but released McCormack after a church official told the priest not to answer questions.
Outside auditors who examined the McCormack case in 2006 criticized how church officials responded to the abuse accusations, saying there were multiple failures, ranging from profound lack of communication to inadequate monitoring policies that put children in danger.
“For the many missteps in responding to accusations of sexual abuse of minors by Father McCormack, I must accept responsibility, and I do so,” George said in response.
Church authorities said 98 percent of all the known accusations stem from abuse that occurred before 1992, when then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin enacted reforms that became a model for dioceses across the country.
As church officials have across the country, Chicago archdiocesan officials said they have learned from past mistakes. They said they have become more knowledgeable about how to respond to allegations of child sex abuse, that they have educated children and adults to recognize the signs of abuse and to report it, and they note that no priest with a credible allegation of abuse is in active ministry.
“We’ve been working hard on this for a long time,” said John O’Malley, the archdiocese’s special counsel for misconduct. “Please challenge the advocates who say nothing has changed and everything is bad.”
One of the priests included in the new release is John Calicott, the former pastor of Holy Angels Roman Catholic Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. In a brief telephone interview Tuesday, Calicott, who was accused of molesting boys in the 1970s, denied abusing anyone, though in the past he has said publicly that he made mistakes. He said he prefers that the files remain closed.
“Some of us tried to fight (the release of documents), but there’s not much we can do,” said Calicott, now 67 and who was laicized in 2009. “(The archdiocese is) going to do what they want to do. This was just so long ago. I’m retired and just trying to go on with my life.”