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Chicago priest sex abuse victims demand more files

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 7:55 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Victims of childhood sexual abuse by priests vowed to keep pushing for more information on how allegations were handled by the Archdiocese of Chicago and other Catholic orders, and are encouraging other victims to come forward.

More than 6,000 pages of internal church documents posted online Tuesday by attorneys showed how officials at the highest level of the nation's third-largest archdiocese tried to contain the scandal, including by moving accused priests from parish to parish while hiding their histories from the public.

But the documents, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, cover only 30 of the at least 65 clergy members for whom the archdiocese says it has substantiated claims of child abuse.

St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson said he will push for documents involving the other 35 archdiocese priests.

"This is a great step, but what is settled is far from what we're shooting for," Anderson said Tuesday at a news conference. Archdiocese officials have said they'll review and develop a process to release documents on those 35 other cases.

Angel Santiago, who was abused in the 1980s by one of the 30 priests singled out in the documents, said the files "represent a lot for us survivors. For some of us it will be answers, for some of us it will be peace of mind ... for all of us, it's a start.

Santiago said he kept silent about the abuse because he feared his father would lose his job as a handyman at the church. When Santiago stopped visiting the priest or attending Mass, his father was fired by the priest, he said.

He said he hopes others victims who kept quiet out of fear or shame find the courage to speak now.

"The more that we find more survivors, the stronger we get and we can get more files out of the archdiocese," Santiago said.

Other victims said they also want the Church to release documents on abusive clergy in other religious orders in the Chicago area.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on Cardinal Francis George to "discipline or demote and denounce and even defrock some of the members of his staff who are responsible for these individuals being hurt and ... at a minimum turned a blind eye to these horrific crimes and worse, concealed those crimes and enabled more crimes just like them."

He also said some priests who abused in the Chicago archdiocese are working elsewhere now.

The archdiocese did not specifically respond to comments made by victims or their advocates on Tuesday, but released a statement saying it knows it "made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify" and that it is "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 did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press on Wednesday.

In a letter distributed to parishes last week, George apologized to victims and Catholics, and said the archdiocese agreed to turn over the records to help the victims heal.

Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman said he and Anderson have "many cases" pending with the archdiocese, which "allows us to keep putting pressure on them."

"There should be zero tolerance within any diocese in country, and anyone found to have shielded a sex abuser should be fired," Pearlman said.

The documents include more than 6,000 pages of internal communications between church officials, disturbing testimony about specific abuses, meeting schedules where allegations were discussed and letters from anguished parishioners. The names of victims and details considered private under mental health laws were redacted.

Late Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin often approved the reassignments, the documents show. The archdiocese removed some priests from ministry, but often years or decades after the clergy were known to have molested children.

Officials in the archdiocese said most of the abuse detailed in the files released Tuesday occurred before 1988 but not after 1996, and that the cases ultimately were reported to authorities.

But victims' lawyers argue many of the allegations surfaced after George assumed control of the archdiocese in 1997, and some of the documents relate to how the church handled the cases more recently.

___

Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed.

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