Responding to the release of documents about Chicago priests accused of abusing minors over the past 50 years, Cardinal Francis George has apologized to victims and reaffirmed that no accused priests are presently serving in ministry.
“We realize the information included in these documents is upsetting. It is painful to read. It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be,” Chicago archbishop Cardinal George said Jan. 21. “The archdiocese sincerely apologizes for the hurt and suffering of the victims and their families as a result of this abuse.”
The cardinal said the archdiocese hopes that the documents’ release and the work of its Office for the Protection of Children and Youth can help abuse victims heal.
The documents – which were released as a condition of a 2005 legal settlement – concern 30 Archdiocese of Chicago priests.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who claims to have won more than $60 million from the U.S. Catholic Church in clerical sex-abuse lawsuits, first received the released files. His office then culled them and posted them online.
Anderson’s office said four of the priests have been criminally convicted of abuse of minors. His office accused the archdiocese of placing priests back in ministry despite them posing a danger to minors.
Cardinal George said that 95 percent of the cases contained in the sex abuse documents occurred before 1988.
“Today, no priest with even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor serves in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” he said.
“The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin,” he continued. “The archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee to come forward.”
Cardinal George has previously said that most of the accused priests were either dead or out of ministry before he arrived in Chicago in 1997. The incidents were reported to civil authorities and legal claims have been mediated. The cardinal has said that he removed those who had been allowed to continue in public ministry before his arrival.
In his Jan. 21 statement, the cardinal discussed the Catholic Church’s past handling of abuse accusations. He said that some leaders of the archdiocese “made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify” according to “the prevailing knowledge of that time.”
“In the past 40 years, society has evolved in dealing with matters related to abuse,” Cardinal George added. “Our understanding of and response to domestic violence, sexual harassment, date rape, and clerical sexual abuse have undergone significant change and so has the Archdiocese of Chicago.”
“While we complied with the reporting laws in place at the time, 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 cardinal said that all reports of sex abuse are referred to civil authorities “immediately.” The archdiocese’s Independent Review Board also examines the results of investigations into allegations and makes recommendations to the archbishop about an accused priest’s fitness for ministry and the safety of children.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has paid about $100 million to settle sex abuse allegations against priests, the New York Times reports.
The names of archdiocesan priests known to have abused a minor are published on the archdiocese’s website, Cardinal George said. He stressed that the archdioceses is concerned “first and foremost” with helping abuse victims heal and has run its victim assistance ministry for over 25 years.
He also pointed to background check efforts and abuse prevention programs now running in the archdiocese.
Earlier this month, in a letter to the Catholic faithful of Chicago, the cardinal said the document release can benefit child protection efforts.
“Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the Archdiocese is committed,” he said. “Accountability to the civil authorities constitutionally responsible for the protection of children is part of the life of the Church here.”