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Archdiocese: Relocating priests after sex abuse allegation ‘a mistake’

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Updated: February 17, 2014 8:29AM

In the past, priests from the Archdiocese of Chicago with substantiated allegations of child sex abuse were sometimes relocated to another parish, but that wasn’t a cover-up, an archdiocese representative said Wednesday — the same day local church officials released documents to attorneys detailing accusations against dozens of priests.

The relocations happened “after” the priests underwent therapy, Bishop Francis Kane, vicar general of the archdiocese, told reporters at the archdiocese’s Near North Side offices. “You wouldn’t do that today. That’s something we learned.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is that we sent people off for evaluation and we got reports back saying. . .it’s safe to put them back in ministry” with monitoring, Kane said. “We found out that isn’t true. That was a mistake. We didn’t realize the depth of this terrible, terrible sin and crime . . . child sex abuse.”

The documents released to attorneys representing those who filed sex abuse lawsuits won’t be made public for at least a week, but Kane told reporters on Wednesday what the public can expect, including details about priest relocations.

The lawsuits triggered an agreement for the archdiocese to turn the documents over to attorneys representing those who filed sex abuse lawsuits against clergy.

In the thousands of pages of documents being released are allegations involving 30 archdiocesan priests. To date, 14 of those priests are dead and the remaining are no longer in ministry. About 95 percent of the reported incidents occurred prior to 1988 and none after 1996; all of the cases were reported to civil authorities.

But plaintiffs’ attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents sexual abuse victims and received the documents on their behalf, took issue with the mistake label and said the archdiocese’s actions put children at risk.

“We see this as a long-standing pattern of top officials of the archdiocese making conscious choices to protect their reputation and to protect the offenders,” he said. “That means conscious choices were made to imperil the children over the years.”

He said to the extent that there’s accountability and transparency through the revealing of the documents, “that is to the credit of the courageous survivors with whom we’ve been working. [It is] our hope that children will be safer . . . by revealing the past because it makes it less likely to be repeated and brings healing to the survivors who can know that they have done something to protect other kids . . . and let the truth be known.”

To date the archdiocese has paid out about $100 million to victims of sexual abuse, and the money has come from the sale of land, not from collections, Kane said.

Of the past “mistakes” made, “I don’t think that any of them were intended to promote or allow child abuse to continue, and how we treated people back then is different than what we do today,” Kane said.

He added, “There was no intention of covering up.”

But representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests say the archdiocese should be doing more, including publishing the names of priests accused of sexual abuse who belong to religious orders.

“If Cardinal George is going to profess to be accountable and transparent, he must stop hiding any information he has regarding any child abuse, order priests or not order priests … for the best interest not of his best interest not of the best interest of the church or the archdiocese [but] for the best interest of children,” SNAP spokeswoman Kate Bochte said at a news conference outside the archdiocese Wednesday.

Archdiocese representatives said they don’t publish the names of priests who belong to religious orders because they are under the jurisdiction of their respective orders that alone have the documents related to their service.

“Any priest that is now assigned to Chicago, we have the assurance of their . . . superior that they are people that have gone through background checks that they are safe to be assigned to a ministry in Chicago,” Kane said.

The archdiocese website lists 65 priests with allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor who are no longer in ministry, because the allegations were substantiated by the archdiocese’s review process. The list includes substantiated allegations since 1950.

The archdiocese has said it will provide more detailed information on the remaining priests, but Wednesday could not specify when.


Twitter: @KnowlesFran

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