Chicago archdiocese releases documents detailing sexual abuse by priests
BY FRANCINE KNOWLES, KIM JANSSEN aND ART GOLAB Staff Reporters January 21, 2014 9:31AM
Kathy Laarveld, mother of a victim, and Joe Iacono, a victim himself, at a news conference on the release of files of Catholic priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors in the Archdiocese of Chicago, on Tuesday, January 21, 2014. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media
LIST OF PRIESTS ACCUSED IN DOCUMENTS
All are out of ministry and 14 are dead: Robert Becker; Joseph Bennett; Kenneth Brigham; William Cloutier; Robert Craig; John William Curran; Joseph Fitzharris; James Hagan; Daniel Mark Holihan; Thomas Job; Thomas Kelly; Joseph Kissane; Norbert Maday; Robert Mayer; Vincent McCaffrey; William O’Brien; Joseph Owens; Emmanuel Pallakunen; Russell Romano; Kenneth Ruge; Raymond Skriba; Marion Snieg; James Steel; Victor Stewart; Ralph Strand; Thomas Swade; Henry Swider; Walter Turlo; Donald Ulatowski; Michael Weston.
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Updated: January 22, 2014 12:23PM
Sixty-two-year-old Joseph Iacono struggled to hold back tears and maintain his composure.
Fifty years after he was sexually abused by a priest, he welcomed the release of Archdiocese of Chicago documents Tuesday that revealed the archdiocese concealed allegations of sexual abuse by serial abusers, moved priests with multiple accusations against them, and typically did not immediately notify authorities of the abuse — putting more children at risk.
The more than 6,000 pages of long sought information, which lifts a veil of secrecy at the nation’s third largest archdiocese, cover abuse allegations against 30 priests that surfaced under the leadership of Cardinals John Cody, Joseph Bernardin and Francis George.
The document release was made by attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman, who represented more than 50 victims. It was prompted by their lawsuits and settlements.
The goals are to end the secrecy at the archdiocese, protect children, hold officials to account and encourage more victims to come forward, attorneys and victims at a press conference said.
“The documents “reflect [a] systematic, ongoing, decades-long continuous pattern of conscious choices by top officials of the archdiocese from Cardinal Cody to Bernardin to Cardinal George,” Anderson said.
Blame is also to be shared by bishops, members of the clergy and other top officials, “each of whom … became aware of … reports that priests were offending children, and they made intentional and conscious choices to conceal that, to protect the priests, protect the reputation of the archdiocese and in effect conceal the crime and give safe harbor to the offender,” he said.
They were not innocent mistakes, added Pearlman, stressing “These were decisions made at the very highest level.”
Among revelations in the documents:
■ Vincent McCaffrey, who was ultimately sentenced to 20 years for child pornography, had been allowed by Bernardin and Cody to remain in ministry and relocate to other parishes after allegations of abuse. McCaffrey ultimately admitted to molesting more than a dozen victims between 1976 and 1990. He wasn’t defrocked until 2010.
■ Bernardin agreed to appoint Robert Mayer as pastor of a Berwyn church after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were levied against him. The promotion was supported by the church’s board of vicars. Bernardin forced him to resign after more allegations surfaced. Mayer was ultimately convicted of sexual abuse of a minor.
■ George kept Joseph Bennett in ministry for nearly four years after allegations of abuse surfaced against him. Allegations came from an individual who passed a lie detector test and from a person who accurately described bodily markings on Bennett’s lower body. Bennett was never criminally charged.
■ The late priest Robert Becker, who at times was accused of abusing in tandem with the late priest Kenneth Ruge, was moved following allegations. Among one of the multiple allegations was abuse against three children in one family. Neither Becker nor Ruge were ever criminally charged, although the archdiocese gave prosecutors records on Ruge after receiving a 1992 subpoena.
■ Victims making allegations were investigated.
Of the 30 priests included in the documents, 14 are dead, and the remainder are no longer in ministry, according to the archdiocese. About 95 percent of the reported allegations occurred before 1988, and none occurred after 1996, it said.
Attorneys blasted the fact that no church officials were ever fired or prosecuted over their mishandling of the allegations.
“The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “They made those decisions in accordance with the prevailing knowledge at the time. In the past 40 years, society has evolved in dealing with matters related to abuse.”
Before 1992, employees were expected to report sexual misconduct as part of “general personnel management,” archdiocesan spokeswoman Susan Burritt said in a statement. “It was not the subject of formal policy.”
Since 2002, allegations of sexual misconduct are reported immediately to civil authorities, and no priest with one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor can serve in public ministry, she said.
“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,” the archdiocese said.
Iacono, who said he was abused by the late Rev. Thomas Kelly, stressed that archdiocesan and other church leaders should have done much more to protect children.
“There was a massive cover-up,” he said. “The priest that abused me moved seven times and abused others. If they would have stopped him, if they would have stopped the others, there would be significantly less victims. [With] the release of these files … my hope is that there will be less victims in the future and people will stop putting the reputation of the institution above the welfare of the children.”
Kelly never faced official criminal charges.
The document release is important, said abuse survivor Angel Santiago.
“For some of us it will be answers,” he said. “For some of us it will be peace of mind ... But for all of us it’s a start.”
The revelations will bring pain, but also comfort, according to Kathy Laarveld, who said her son was a victim of abuse.
“This today is going to open an extremely painful scar, but it’s not going to be wide open, and it’s going to heal much more quickly,” she said. “ ... The files will tell the story for our son and for the other victims ... It will give them courage. It will give them hope.”