CHICAGO – As part of a court settlement, the Archdiocese of Chicago plans to release church files on former Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children.
Cardinal Francis George made the announcement in a letter to priests that will be published Sunday in church bulletins. In it, he acknowledges mistakes in the church's response to the allegations, but says there was no cover-up.
Plaintiffs in abuse cases have sought the information for years. Under the terms of an ongoing settlement, the church will deliver the documents to their attorneys on Jan. 15. The information will go public a week later after information about the alleged victims is removed.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for plaintiffs, has seen the records and says they include church documents on 30 former clergy members accused in the cases. Anderson says the files also identify current and former church officials who he says sought to protect them.
In his letter, George writes that the church is releasing the records in the interests of "transparency."
"Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes raises transparency to a new level," George writes. "It will be helpful, we pray, for some, but painful for many."
Most of the 30 former priests have already been identified by name on an archdiocese website listing clergy members accused of sexual abuse. The bulk of the cases involve abuse claims that go back 20 years and none of the priests is currently in ministry.
George's letter includes an account of the church's handling of a more recent case involving former priest Daniel McCormack, whose crimes took place on the cardinal's watch.
McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children. He was sentenced to five years in prison and removed from the priesthood.
George notes that McCormack was ordained by his predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who vetted his seminary record.
Following McCormack's first arrest, in September 2005, George said the archdiocese's own investigation was "hampered because the various offices involved did not consistently share what they knew with each other or with me."
Later, he said, "a number of incidents came forward that might have served as warning signals along the way, if people had been more wary."
"The response, in retrospect, was not always adequate to all the facts, but a mistake is not a cover-up," the cardinal said.