The Chicago Archdiocese's Files On Priest Sex Abuse Reveal Decades Of Unchecked Crimes

In an effort to maintain some transparency, the Chicago Archdiocese released files on priest sex abuse on Thursday — the second batch of documents detailing clergy abuse released by the archdiocese this year. The trove of documents contains information on 36 priests who allegedly committed at least one sexual act against a minor. According to the Chicago Archdiocese, the allegations stem as far back as the 1950s, with 98 percent of the crimes occurring before 1992. The archdiocese is calling these "historical claims," but acknowledges that, yes, allegations of clergy sex abuse are still emerging in Chicago.

The thousands of documents, organized by each clergy, range from court documents and investigation reports to personal letters and work logs. Allegations include forcing a minor to undress in front of a cleric (in the case of former priest Joseph Thomas); making "inappropriate" gestures and advances (former priest Russell Romano); and forcing a male minor to "act out pornographic acts" with a female minor (former priest William Cloutier).

In one particularly disturbing file, a note to Chicago Bishop Raymond Goedert staunchly defended accused priest Thomas Swade, who was defrocked in 1992 after six victims came forward, alleging that they were molested by the priest as minors. Swade was almost reinstated by the archdiocese in the late '90s.

These files are meant to show how the archdiocese — one of the largest in the United States — responded to these alleged crimes. None of the priest listed here are currently in church ministry. However, it's unclear how many of these priests were convicted and served time for their crimes. Data from the archdiocese report shows that there were "major exoduses of priests" whenever new allegations surfaced, possibly revealing that priests were quietly dismissed rather than brought to court.

The report states:

During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, many priests were “withdrawn” from parish ministry and assigned to a “restricted ministry” out of contact with children. Some were additionally subject to a “monitoring” program. Published documents include many “Individual Specific Protocols” governing individual movements and behaviors.
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Previously, the Chicago Archdiocese publicly released files on 30 priests accused of child sex abuse, bringing the total number of accused priests in the archdiocese to 66. However, that number is not necessarily complete: The archdiocese notes that former priest Daniel J. McCormack is not included in either batch of files, because his child sex abuse case is ongoing. McCormack was first arrested for sexually abusing young boys in 2006 — though the allegations date back to his time in the seminary in the early '90s — defrocked by the archdiocese in 2007. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and arrested again in 2014 after new sex abuse allegations surfaced.

Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who's retiring in two weeks, said Thursday in a statement:

We are committed to transparency with the people we serve. We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue. Child abuse is a crime and a sin. The Archdiocese of Chicago is concerned first and foremost with bringing healing to abuse victims.
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Since 1952, there have been 352 incidents of priest sex abuse against minors in Chicago Catholic schools and parishes, the archdiocese said in its released report. The "height" of clergy sex abuse took place between 1975 and 1985, where sex crimes were committed nearly 20 times a year.

What the report and accompanying files show is the systemic failure of the Catholic Church to curb child sex crimes and penalize abusive priests. Although the archdiocese notes that most crimes occurred during the '70s and '80s, it took an average 25 years for these cases to be reported in any Church records. "Reporting of sexual abuse lagged many years behind the events of abuse," the archdiocese said.

Critics of the Catholic Church have long condemned the hierarchy for turning a blind eye to abusive priests — and enabling clergy by transferring them to different parishes. Said David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) on Thursday:

This information could and should have been revealed years ago. Lives could have been saved. Crimes could have been prevented. Families could have been preserved. Instead, Cardinal Francis George and dozens of his clerical colleagues have, for years, opted to put their reputations and comfort [first]. It’s as if Catholic officials thought, for years, that 'Our job is to protect ourselves from lawsuits. So we’ll yank these dangerous men from parishes. But that’s all we’ll do. And whoever they molest next, that’s not our concern.
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Meanwhile, the Chicago Archdiocese contends that from the early '90s on, it had the proper respond to priest abuse allegations, citing former archdiocese leader Cardinal Joseph Bernardin's "Commission on Clerical Sexual Misconductwith Minors," which was created in 1992. Bernardin's reforms were among the first in the United States to directly address clergy abuse.

Publicly releasing these files may be a sign of change in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, who has promised to crack down on abusive priests — something his predecessors, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, failed to do. Francis, promising accountability, created a new Vatican committee for clergy abuse investigations in March, and has personally invited six victims of priest abuse to the Vatican in June.

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