Priest sex abuse files made public on 30 Chicago Archdiocese priests

Priest sex abuse files - thousands of pages of information collected by the Archdiocese of Chicago on 30 Chicago priests - are now public.
January 21, 2014 3:46:58 PM PST
Priest sex abuse files - thousands of pages of information collected by the Archdiocese of Chicago on 30 Chicago priests - are now public.

Key documents | Priest Documents

The documents provide the broadest look yet into the details of what the Chicago Archdiocese officials knew and did - or didn't do - about the sex abuse scandal. More than 6,000 pages of documents were released to the attorneys last week, and they made the documents public on Tuesday.

Victim attorneys say the documents show that the archdiocese concealed the abuse for decades and operated "in denial."

"A portrait of misplaced priorities. A portrait of misplaced loyalty," attorney Jeff Anderson said. "The documents tell a tale that has been longstanding, going back from the 50s and demonstrating through at least 2006 conscious choices. Those choices were made by the top official."

Those top officials include Cardinals Cody, Bernadin and George, who failed to notify police or quietly moved priests accused of sexual abuse from parish to parish.

"When are they going to learn? There was a massive cover-up," said Joe Iacono, victim. Iacono was abused by his school priest when he was 11 years old. "The priest that abused me moved seven times and abused others."

Most of the priests were never prosecuted. The reports show that priests who were deemed "cured" by mental health experts were put back in ministry.

"The bottom line is: These were all adults who knew these were crimes against kids, and whether the offenders were treatable or not, they were still crimes and they chose not to report them," Iacono said.

"They have done nothing in the Archdiocese of Chicago. And that probably hurts more than anything else," Jim Laarveld, parent of victim, said.

The Chicago Archdiocese released a statement that read, in part: "The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify. They made those decisions in accordance with the prevailing knowledge at the time . . . While we complied with the reporting laws in place at the time, the Church and its leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that they wished they had done more and done it sooner, but now are working hard to regain trust, to reach out to victims and their families, and to make certain that all children and youth are protected."

Church officials point out that 95% of the files are from cases prior to 1988. But Anderson said that does not let Cardinal George off the hook. He said documents show that George mishandled allegations against Rev. Joseph Bennett and Daniel McCormack. In addition, letters from George to convicted child abuser Norbert Maday reveal how the cardinal tried for five years to get Maday out of prison.

"The loyalties have been with the offenders and to avoid scandal," Anderson said.

"The documents will speak for themselves," Marc Pearlman. "Each file tells the same story. The only difference the perpetrator's name and victim. [It's] a pattern of abuse."

Victims' attorneys said there are 35 more priests for whom the archdiocese said it has substantiated claims of child abuse.

"For 10 years we've struggled with our son. This today is going to open an extremely painful scar," said one victim's mother. She said she hopes the release of the files will give victims "courage" and "hope."

"For all of us, it's a start. It's a beginning," said another survivor, Angel Santiago. "It's a little bit more weight off my shoulders."

Anderson believes church abuse will continue until church officials who failed to report or hid the abuse are held responsible.

Excerpts of records on accused Chicago priests

Below are excerpts from the documents regarding some of the archdiocese's more well-known accused priests:

Rev. Robert E. Mayer

Robert E. Mayer was accused in a 1983 lawsuit of exposing himself to several altar boys from St. Edna's in Arlington Heights during a lake outing and trying to fondle two boys.

While that litigation was pending, another priest at the church, Rev. John J. Hurley, wrote to the archdiocese to say the mother of one alleged victim felt "the law firm of the Archdiocese is steamrolling over her and her husband." The mother, he continued, suspected the church's strategy was to draw out the litigation until the financial strain became too much for the family.

"She feels powerless," the letter said. "She feels hurt and sad and rejected."

The priest recommended various options, including a face-to-face meeting between the family and then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Hurley wrote, "It might well be a healing experience if the plaintiffs met a warm human being."

Revs. Kenneth C. Ruge and Robert C. Becker

Kenneth C. Ruge and Robert C. Becker allegedly worked in tandem, taking children on camping trips in the 1980s and abusing them inside an RV. They would turn off the RV's heat as a pretext for climbing into bed naked with the boys to keep them warm, church documents said.

Becker was a top canon lawyer for the archdiocese and worked at multiple parishes over decades. Ruge was relieved of duties at Norridge's Divine Savior parish in 1991, after which Bernardin wrote to him, striking a reassuring tone.

"Ken," he wrote, "be assured that you have a special place in my daily prayers ... I will do everything possible to help you."

As Ruge lay on his deathbed in 2002, a letter addressed to him from a victim's relatives said they hoped he "would suffer as much as possible now before burning in hell." He died shortly after, never seeing the letter because he was semi-comatose, at age 64.

Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey

Vincent E. McCaffrey was accused of molesting more than a dozen children, some of them hundreds of times. Once, he allegedly tried to run over a victim with his car when the child fled from an attack.

In 1980, the head pastor at McCaffrey's church, Our Lady of Loretto in Hometown, sent a scathing letter to the archdiocese - copying in then-Cardinal John Cody - letting them know the parents of a boy had gone to police with abuse claims. The Rev. James O'Connor wrote, "The police in Hometown have been very good in keeping the situation quiet."

In a 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests also said several prominent parishioners had received an anonymous phone call that McCaffrey sexually abused boys.

"We all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move," Raymond Goedert wrote. "We don't know if the anonymous caller will strike again."

Rev. William J. Cloutier

Throughout the 1980s, the Catholic Church applied a policy of therapy and reinstatement, even in the case of William J. Cloutier, a priest at St. Damian's in Oak Forest who was accused of sodomizing a 13-year-old and later threatening him at gunpoint if he dared tell anyone.

Church documents reveal officials had several prior complaints against Cloutier, but took no action other than confronting him and accepting that he "sounded repentant." Upon returning to active ministry after about a year of therapy, Cloutier was accused of abusing other children, and church documents show he was placed under monitoring in 1987.

In 1991, Cloutier was pressured to resign and made to live in special housing for priests who had abused children. Some documents suggested it might still be possible to return him to active ministry, and another notes Cloutier was an adept computer engineer and that he be given a job working with computers for the diocese "if this all doesn't blow over."

John Curran

John Curran's alleged abuse dated back to the 1960s, and he once allegedly told a victim the molestation was part of sexual education instruction.

But by 1995, four years after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him, Curran's superiors still suggested the priesthood was his calling. Bernardin wrote to Curran that year, saying, "I cannot even imagine you as anything but a priest."

Curran was a parish priest at Chicago's St. Christina's through the 1980s and into the early 1990s.

One of the diocese's priests wrote in 1995, "It seems pretty clear to me that John presents no risk to children since he hardly ever even leaves his room."

Later, after he was ordered to follow strict protocols, Curran at times seemed to thumb his nose at his superiors, not returning phone calls and moving into an apartment when they wanted him to get help elsewhere.

"This is about a part of their story as Chicago Catholics that ... has been systematically hidden," Isely said.

The documents were posted at 9:30 AM on andersonadvocates.com, abusedinchicago.com and bishopaccountability.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.


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