Chicago archdiocese hid allegations of abuse

A recent Associate Press article revealed that the Chicago archdiocese hid decades of allegations of abuse:

For decades, those at the highest levels of the nation’s third-largest archdiocese moved accused priests from parish to parish while hiding the clerics’ histories from the public. The documents, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, describe how the late Cardinals John Cody and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin often approved the reassignments. The archdiocese removed some priests from ministry, but often years or decades after the clergy were known to have molested children.

This comes as no surprise given the archdiocese’s presence in Chicago. What is surprising is release of documents about the cases. The records cover thirty cases of sexual abuse claims. The names of the children were redacted, yet the records do include detailed accounts of the abuse and other information:

But the more than 6,000 pages include internal communications between church officials, disturbing testimony about specific abuses, meeting schedules where allegations were discussed, and letters from anguished parishioners. The names of victims, and details considered private under mental health laws were redacted.

Cardinal Francis George said in a letter distributed to parishes last week that the archdiocese agreed to turn over the records in an attempt to help the victims heal. “I apologize to all those who have been harmed by these crimes and this scandal,” George wrote.

Officials in the archdiocese said most of the abuse detailed in the files released Tuesday occurred before 1988, none after 1996, and that all these cases ultimately were reported to authorities.

Many of the priests accused of abuse were sent for treatment. According to the AP report, some of them refused or ignored orders to go. The records also include accounts from officials showing more concern about accused priests being discovered rather than concern for future victims:

In one 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests worries about parishioners discovering the record of the Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey, who was moved four times because of abuse allegations.

“Unfortunately, one of the key parishioners … received an anonymous phone call which made reference by name to Vince and alleged misconduct on his part with young boys,” wrote vicar for priests, the Rev. Raymond Goedert. “We all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move. We don’t know if the anonymous caller will strike again.”

When the archdiocese tried to force accused clergy into treatment or isolate them at church retreats, some of the priests refused, or ignored orders by church administrators to stay away from children.

Church officials worried about losing parishioners and “potential priests” over abuse scandals. “This question I believe is going to get stickier and stickier,” Patrick O’Malley, then-vicar for priests, wrote in a 1992 letter.

While many of the cases happened decades ago, the problem of how officials handled the allegations remain. There is a clear record of the powers that be protecting priests over children and going out of the way to make things difficult for those reporting abuse.

Perhaps this has changed since the scandal broke in the early 2000s. Most of the records being released are decades old. However, while it is possible that there are fewer instances of abuse today, it is also possible that victims of priests continue to be silenced by church officials. We do not know because of the secretive nature of the church.

What is most troubling is that the church does not appear to make any proactive effort report these cases. They undoubtedly know about many more cases than what they have released. Some of the priests accused in those cases may have died, yet some of them are likely alive. In states that allow for prosecution decades later, why has the church not handed those cases over to the authorities? Why are they not going through their documents and reporting priests with multiple accusations made against them?

While I normally would not agree with doing the latter, since so many priests who are reported often have dozens of reports against them, it makes sense for the church to makes those accusations public. This would at least allow the victims of those priests to come forward.

I suspect part of the reason the church has tiptoed around releasing documents is the fear that they would be held criminally or civilly liable for failing to protect the children. The statute of limitations may protect them from criminal charges, but civil charges remain a possibility. The Catholic Church already spent millions on payouts. I doubt they want to spend more. This may be the reason for the periodic records dumping.

If any good comes of this, it will be that people will see how an organization tries to (and in this case rather effectively) hide its dirty laundry.

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