Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has sent a letter to the faithful of his archdiocese ahead of the release of documents about past clergy sexual misconduct, reaffirming that no known sex abusers are in active ministry.
“So far as can be known from all our records, there is no priest in public ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago who has been found to have sexually abused a child, no matter when the abuse took place.”
The archdiocese will release a report on sexual misconduct cases by its clergy on Jan. 15. It will detail 30 offenders and over 40 abuse victims WGN TV reports. None of the incidents occurred after 1996 and 95 percent occurred before 1998, archdiocese attorney John O'Malley told the Chicago Tribune.
Cardinal George said “almost all” of the incidents took place “decades ago.” He said most of the priests were either dead or out of ministry before he arrived in Chicago. The incidents were reported to civil authorities and legal claims have been mediated.
He said the release of the documents may be “helpful” for some but “painful for many.”
“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.”
He said the names of priests known to have abused a minor are published on the archdiocese’s website.
Cardinal George’s letter criticized the vice of “clericalism,” saying this attitude appears “when a person or group decides it is not accountable for its actions.”
This attitude is “spiritually deadly” when a priest “decides he is not accountable to God and breaks his promise of chaste celibacy as well as the commandments of the Lord.”
The cardinal said that discipline among the clergy weakened during the 1970s and 1980s “when sex abuse was most prevalent.”
He said the archdiocese began to become more accountable and transparent, though “sometimes hesitantly,” in the late 1980s. During the 1990s the archdiocese allowed some perpetrators of abuse to serve in ministry in “a restricted form” that barred them from regular contact with minors. This policy changed in 2002 when the U.S. bishops decided on a “zero tolerance policy.”
“I removed from all public ministry those who had been allowed some pastoral work under the rules in effect under my predecessor,” said Cardinal George, who has headed the Chicago archdiocese since 1997.
In his letter, he noted that every archdiocese employee and volunteer must undergo background checks and child protection training. He also asked Catholics to pray for sex abuse victims, perpetrators and the archdiocese.
“Once again, I apologize to all those who have harmed by these crimes and this scandal,” he said.
The files concerning the 30 priests will first be released to attorney Jeff Anderson, who has represented many plaintiffs in sex abuse cases against the Catholic Church. Anderson controversially attempted to sue the Holy See for sex abuse cases in the U.S., though his lawsuit was dismissed in federal court.
The attorney has also provided sex abuse documents to media outlets such as the New York Times, prompting concern that he has unduly shaped the media narrative about Catholic clergy sex abuse.
Anderson's office will cull the documents and post them online, the Chicago Tribune reports. Their release is a condition of a legal settlement reached in 2005. The documents could be released by the end of January.
The files do not address the case of Daniel McCormack, a former priest who in 2007 pled guilty to sexually abusing five children. The archdiocese has settled several an abuse lawsuit from his victims at a cost of millions of dollars. McCormack was removed from the priesthood in 2007.
Cardinal George’s letter addressed the McCormack controversy, saying that neither in Chicago “nor in any previous posting as a bishop or a religious superior have I assigned to pastoral ministry or transferred for ministry a priest whom I knew to have sexually abused a child.”
McCormack had a reputation as “a dedicated priest an and effective pastor,” the cardinal said. He was on the faculty of a seminary and served on the priests’ placement board.
Cardinal George said the archdiocese’s investigation of the priest began after his first arrest in 2005 but was hampered because various archdiocesan offices did not “consistently share” what they knew with each other or with Cardinal George. The civil authorities also did not share information with the archdiocese.
The priest was again arrested in January 2006, after which a number of incidents came to light.
Cardinal George said the response to McCormack was “not always adequate” but “a mistake is not a cover up.”