News Headlines > Chicago cardinal apologises for decades of abuse cover-up

22 January 2014 | by Carlisle Baker-Jackson

Chicago cardinal apologises for decades of abuse cover-up

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The Archdiocese of Chicago issued a “sincere apology” as it released 6,000 documents yesterday relating to its handling of sexual misconduct by 30 of its priests between 1950 and 1996.

The documents were released as part of a 2008 settlement with victims. They reveal how allegations were kept secret and church leaders, including the late cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin, would approve the moving of accused priests from one parish to another. They also call into question the actions of the archbishop – Cardinal Francis George.

A statement on the archdiocesan website said: “The archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify.

“In the past 40 years, society has evolved in dealing with matters related to abuse … 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 statement said the documents depicted “not the Church we know or the Church we want to be”.

It also stated that no priest with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor serves in ministry in the archdiocese.

Last week Cardinal Francis George said in a letter to parishes he had never knowingly transferred an abusive priest. "Neither in Chicago nor in any 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."

At a press conference yesterday, lawyer Jeff Anderson disputed the cardinal’s statement and drew attention to an instance where George overrode a decision of his review board by keeping one priest, Fr Joseph Bennett, in ministry and another in which the cardinal worked to get an early release from jail for another.

Regarding Fr Bennett, then-Archbishop George wrote in a letter to an archdiocese child protection official in 2005: "I realise this creates a rather awkward situation, but I believe I need to reflect on this matter further.”

The documents only relate to 30 of the 65 priests whom the diocese says are credibly accused of abuse. Personnel files for the other 35 priests listed by the archdiocese as credibly accused have yet to be made public.

The majority of the incidents happened before 1988, though victims did not come forward until after Cardinal George’s arrival in Chicago in 1997. The files also include some documentation relating to Fr Daniel McCormack. Allegations were made against him in the early 2000s, leading to his prosecution in 2006.

In 2008 the archdiocese paid US$12.6m to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Since 1994 the Catholic Church in the US has paid out more than US$1.3bn to victims of sex abuse in America.

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