CHICAGO – The Archdiocese of Chicago said Wednesday it will release 6,000 pages of documents detailing what it knows about decades of clergy sex abuse allegations and how it handled them, calling it an effort to "bring healing to the victims and their families."
Victims' attorneys, who have fought for years to hold the Catholic Church accountable for concealing crimes and sometimes reassigning priests to positions where they continued to molest children, said they expect to receive the documents Wednesday afternoon and make them public next week.
The nation's third-largest archdiocese agreed to release complaints, personnel documents and other files for about 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations as part of settlements with abuse victims.
"Until there is public disclosure and transparency ... there is no way people can learn about it and make sure it does not happen again," said attorney Marc Pearlman, who has helped represent about 200 victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area.
Bishop Francis Kane began a news conference by apologizing for the abuse.
"What we are doing now I hope will bring healing to the victims and their families," Kane said. "I have seen firsthand the pain and suffering of the victims and their families."
Archdiocese attorney John O'Malley warned that the documents will be "upsetting." ''The information is painful; it's difficult to read, even without the benefit of hindsight," O'Malley said.
The documents are similar to recent disclosures by other dioceses in the U.S. that showed how the church shielded priests and failed to report child sex abuse to authorities. Chicago officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988 and none after 1996.
Cardinal Francis George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, did not attend the news conference. But on Sunday he released a letter of apology to parishioners that said releasing the records "raises transparency to a new level." He also stressed that much of the abuse occurred decades ago, before he became archbishop.
George said all incidents were reported to civil authorities and resulted in settlements.
In fact, the archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle sexual abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school. The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack.
Files on McCormack will not be among those released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases, Pearlman said. He said he and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson will re-release the McCormack documents that they have.
Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests against whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations of abuse. That is because settlements that required the disclosures involved just those 30 priests, Pearlman said. O'Malley said the archdiocese will review and develop a process to release documents on the other cases.
Victims and their lawyers said publicizing the documents is crucial to shedding light on how the archdiocese handled accusations against priests and to help victims and the Catholic Church heal and move forward.
Joe Iacono hopes records related to the priest who abused him more than 50 years ago are among those released.
"For me, it's going to empower me again ... and hopefully it will help others out there struggling to come forward and get help," said Iacono, 62, a Springfield resident who was abused in the early 1960s while he was a student at St. John Vianney Catholic School in North Lake, Ill.
He said Father Thomas Kelly, who is dead but whom the church has acknowledged abused children, took an active interest in a group of boys, lifting weights with them and inviting them to spend the night at the rectory.
"It was his way of weeding us out and separating us from the rest of the class and making us feel special (so he could) take liberties with us," said Iacono, who said he tried to forget about the abuse until his daughter was born years later.
Iacono said he also hopes the release "opens the eyes of parishioners ... that we need to hold (church leaders) accountable for their behavior and not allow this to happen again."
Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it's also important for all Chicago-area Catholics to read the until-now "hidden" documents.
"It's physical, material evidence and truth," he said. "I can't tell you how important this is to victims of trauma ... it's something that can't be denied and wished away."