Chicago archdiocese releases 15,000 pages on priest sex abuse

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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The Chicago archdiocese on Thursday voluntarily released nearly 15,000 pages of documents related to 36 priests with substantiated claims of sexual abuse of minors brought against them.

All 36 priests are no longer active in ministry and had been listed on the archdiocese's website prior to the release; 14 have died and nine have been laicized. The archdiocese stated in a press release that 92 percent of the cases predate 1988 and that no priests with a substantiated allegation of child sexual abuse is currently in ministry. The files are available on its website.

Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese's Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, told NCR that the release of the files was important because it provides "a full story."

"We didn't do everything perfectly. It got better as you come through time," she said. She said  she anticipates the documents will encourage additional victims to come forward "and to try to reach some healing and some appropriate settlement within themselves."

The Thursday release comes roughly nine months since the archdiocese made public 6,000 pages of documents related to another 30 priests. Those files came as part of a 2008 settlement with alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse. Slattery said the January release led survivors of sexual abuse to come forward, but they named no priests not already listed by the archdiocese.

Together, the dual disclosures have opened the files of all but two Chicago priests known to have substantiated claims of abuse, according to the archdiocese. The remaining include Fr. Edward J. Maloney and Daniel McCormack, the latter a former priest who pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexually abusing five young men. McCormack's file remains sealed while litigation continues; Maloney's case is currently in canonical proceedings.

"As we said in January, we are committed to transparency with the people we serve," Cardinal Francis George said in a press statement. "We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue. Child abuse is a crime and a sin. The Archdiocese of Chicago is concerned first and foremost with bringing healing to abuse victims."

George had indicated that the decision to release the documents Thursday was in part to clear the deck for his successor, Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash. Cupich is set to be installed as archbishop of Chicago on Nov. 18.

Despite the release coming without legal force, as did the January disclosure, it nonetheless garnered criticism.

"I'm comforted that they put some information out. I'm disturbed that they chose not to engage us in the process so we could be sure it's all it has to be and should be," attorney Jeff Anderson told NCR. "And having reviewed it, it raises more questions than it does give answers."

Anderson, who represented claims in the settlement that brought the January release, said "at that time, it was our intention to continue that process" that brought about the first 30 disclosures, but that they were ultimately denied access. He attributed that in part to critical statements he made about George's handling of the McCormack case.

John O'Malley, director of legal services for the archdiocese, told NCR that while Anderson, following the January release, made known his interest in being a part of further disclosures, "we never, ever told him that we were entertaining that thought or that that was a possibility, as far as I know."

"I'm frankly disappointed that he's making these points because I would have hoped he would have supported our decision to do this voluntarily, on our own, because he's been calling for that for a long time," he said.

Anderson's inclusion in the first release, O'Malley said, was related to his representational interest in the cases. O'Malley said there was not necessarily a legal impediment from including Anderson or another attorney, but more so "a professional respect issue."

"Victims come forward and tell stories of being abused. They expect and we respect that we will maintain the confidence of that, and we spent a lot of time in this process maintaining that confidence," he said.

The process for the second disclosure had several archdiocesan staff working full-time with the documents and included a lawyer representing the 36 priests and the same mediator used during the first release. Only one priest -- Maloney -- appealed that his file not go public.

Asked if there was consideration given to an outside party, Slattery said outside attorneys that work with the archdiocese were involved.

Calling the Chicago release "disturbingly deficient and alarming," Anderson contrasted the Windy City with the Twin Cities, where a month ago, he struck a "historic settlement" that wrapped up a case against the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese and Winona, Minn., diocese and entered them into a partnership aimed at further disclosure and transparency to the allegation process.

On Wednesday, Anderson and the Twin Cities archdiocese released 24 files of priests assigned at some point to the Twin Cities with substantiated claims of abuse, either in the archdiocese or elsewhere. Fifteen of the 24 have died, and all but two have been out of ministry for at least a decade, the archdiocese said.

The release of the 24 files followed the addition of 17 priests on Oct. 23 to the archdiocese's public list of those with substantiated claims of child sexual abuse. Eleven of the 17 disclosed names were included in Wednesday's file release.

"The more that is known about these offenders and their histories, the safer our community becomes," Anderson said in an Oct. 23 statement. "This is just the beginning of a plan for full disclosure."

Ten days earlier, Anderson, the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Winona diocese announced a settlement in the John Doe 1 case, which had brought a "public nuisance" charge against the church and led to depositions taken of several high-ranking officials, including Archbishop John Nienstedt.

"This is about a new day, this is about a new way, this is about a safer day," Anderson said at the time.

He told NCR on Thursday that he has so far been pleased with the settlement "and the fruits that it is bearing. ... We are making progress at a pace and in a way that has never been made before. I consider it to be very comforting and very productive."

His office is reviewing 150,000 pages of files, and he said he expects additional disclosures to come next week and to continue for at least the next month.

As for Chicago, Anderson wasn't alone in critiquing the latest document release. In a statement Thursday, David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, labeled it a "belated, grudging and partial disclosure" and called for the archdiocese to make public the addresses of the 22 priests still living.

"Church officials harp on healing. But healing is secondary. Prevention is primary," he said.

O'Malley called SNAP's and Anderson's responses "very unfortunate, because this is an effort to provide information that these groups have been suggesting be provided, and now that it's done, it's not good enough. ... We gotta reduce this rhetoric and move ahead."

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

A version of this story appeared in the Nov 21-Dec 4, 2014 print issue under the headline: Chicago archdiocese voluntarily releases priest sex abuse documents.

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