Archdiocese hid decades of sex abuse

Associated Press Published:

CHICAGO -- Top leaders at the Archdiocese of Chicago helped hide the sexual abuse of children as they struggled to contain a growing crisis, according to thousands of pages of internal documents that raise new questions about how Cardinal Francis George handled the allegations even after the church adopted reforms.

The documents, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, describe how priests for decades were moved from parish to parish while the archdiocese hid the clerics' histories from the public, often with the approval of the late Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin.

Although the abuse documented in the files occurred before George became archbishop in 1997, many victims did not come forward until after he was appointed and after U.S. bishops pledged in 2002 to keep all accused priests out of ministry.

George delayed removing the Rev. Joseph R. Bennett, despite learning that the priest had been accused of sexually abusing girls and boys decades earlier. The board the cardinal appointed to help him evaluate abuse claims advised him that Bennett should be removed.

George, a 77-year-old cancer survivor, is awaiting permission from Pope Francis to retire

In a letter distributed to parishes last week, George apologized for the abus.

After a 13-year-old boy reported in 1979 that a priest raped him and later threatened him at gunpoint to keep quiet, the Archdiocese of Chicago assured the boy's parents that although the cleric avoided prosecution, he would receive treatment and have no further contact with minors.

But the Rev. William Cloutier, who already had been accused of molesting other children, was returned to ministry a year later and accused of more abuse before he resigned in 1993, two years after the boy's parents filed a lawsuit. Officials took no action against Cloutier over his earliest transgressions because he "sounded repentant," according to internal archdiocese documents released Tuesday that show how the archdiocese tried to contain a mounting scandal over child sexual abuse.

In one 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests worries about parishioners discovering the record of the Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey, who was moved four times because of abuse allegations.

"Unfortunately, one of the key parishioners ... received an anonymous phone call which made reference by name to Vince and alleged misconduct on his part with young boys," wrote the Rev. Raymond Goedert. "We all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move. We don't know if the anonymous caller will strike again."

The archdiocese released a statement Tuesday saying it knows it "made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify" and that society has evolved in how it deals with abuse.

"The Church and its leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that they wished they had done more and done it sooner, but now are 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 statement read.

For many victims, the abuse left a lifetime of emotional scars.

"Where was the church for the victims of this sick, demented, twisted pedophile?" one man wrote in a 2002 letter to George about abuse at the hands of the Rev. Norbert Maday, who was imprisoned in Wisconsin after a 1994 conviction for molesting two boys. "Why wasn't the church looking out for us? We were children, for God's sake."

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Zoll reported from New York. Associated Press reporters Jason Keyser, Don Babwin and Michael Tarm contributed from Chicago.

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Online: http://www.andersonadvocates.com

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