Kathy and Jim Laarveld, whose son who was sexually abused by a priest, stood before projected photos of some priests identified as abusers by the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Charles Rex Arbogast • Associated Press,
St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson stood next to sex-abuse files released by the Archdiocese of Chicago as part of a settlement, documents that offer the broadest look into how church leaders responded.
Church leaders helped hide sexual abuse in Archdiocese of Chicago
- Article by: Tammy Webber and Rachel Zoll
- Associated Press
- January 21, 2014 - 9:46 PM
CHICAGO – Top leaders at the Archdiocese of Chicago helped hide the sexual abuse of children as they struggled to contain a growing crisis, according to thousands of pages of internal documents that also raise new questions about how Cardinal Francis George handled the allegations even after the church adopted reforms.
The documents, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, describe how priests for decades were moved from parish to parish while the archdiocese hid the clerics’ histories from the public, often with the approval of the late Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin.
Although the abuse documented in the files occurred before George became archbishop in 1997, many victims did not come forward until after he was appointed and after U.S. bishops pledged in 2002 to keep all accused priests out of ministry.
George delayed removing the Rev. Joseph R. Bennett, despite learning that the priest had been accused of sexually abusing girls and boys decades earlier. Even the board the cardinal appointed to help him evaluate abuse claims said that Bennett should be removed.
“I realize this creates a rather awkward situation, but I believe I need to reflect on this matter further,” George wrote in a Nov. 7, 2005, letter to an archdiocese child protection official. Also against the advice of his board, George had Bennett monitored by another priest who was a friend and who vacationed with Bennett.
Bennett first faced abuse claims before he was ordained, and allegations continued well after 2002. He has denied any wrongdoing in his communications with the archdiocese, but was forced out of ministry on Feb. 3, 2006, according to the newly public documents.
George tried to get another priest, Norbert Maday, released early from a Wisconsin prison where he was serving time for a 1994 conviction for molesting two boys.
He also has apologized for how he handed allegations against former priest Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children and whose case prompted an internal investigation of how the archdiocese responds to abuse claims.
“The issue is not when the abuse happened; the issue is what they did once it was reported,” said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented 200 victims of abuse in the Chicago area.
While disturbing stories of clergy sexual abuse have wrenched the Roman Catholic Church across the globe, the newly released documents offer the broadest look yet into how one of its largest dioceses responded to the scandal.
The documents, posted online Tuesday by victims’ attorneys, cover only 30 of the at least 65 clergy members for whom the archdiocese says it has substantiated claims of child abuse. Vatican documents related to the 30 cases were not included, under the negotiated terms of the disclosure. Victims’ attorneys are working to get files on the other priests.
The files are being released as George, 77, awaits permission from Pope Francis to retire.
In a letter sent to parishes last week, George apologized and said the disclosures are an attempt to help victims heal.
The more than 6,000 pages include internal communications between church officials and disturbing testimony about specific abuses. Victims’ names were redacted.
When a young woman reported in 1970 that she’d been abused, for example, Cody assured the priest that the “whole matter has been forgotten” because “no good can come of trying to prove or disprove the allegations.”
The archdiocese released a statement Tuesday saying it knows it “made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify.”
For many victims, the abuse left a lifetime of scars.
“Why wasn’t the church looking out for us?” one man wrote to George in 2002. “We were children, for God’s sake.”
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