$12M Settlement Reached in Chicago Clergy Abuse

By Carla K. Johnson
Beacon News
August 13, 2008,2_1_AU13_PRIEST_S1.article

CHICAGO — Bob Brancato is prone to flashbacks in the supermarket when he sees a brand of soap he used as a child to clean himself after his Catholic priest sexually abused him.

Therese Albrecht lost faith in God, spent years in therapy and considered suicide because of repeated rapes by her priest when she was young.

Both former Catholics, now adults, are part of a $12.6 million settlement announced Tuesday with the Archdiocese of Chicago. Both said the money means less to them than the publication of a lengthy deposition by Cardinal Francis George. That document's release, part of the terms of the agreement, represents a new level of openness from the Catholic church.

"The archdiocese has finally taken that cloak of secrecy out of the equation," Brancato said.

Brancato and Albrecht, who spoke at a press conference at a Chicago law firm, are among 16 clergy sexual abuse victims who settled with the archdiocese. Individual monetary amounts were not released.

"What price do you put on an 8-year-old's virginity?" asked Albrecht, 48, who said she was raped and sodomized from age 8 to 11 by the Rev. Joseph R. Bennett, a priest at St. John De La Salle on Chicago's South Side.

She said even worse than the rapes and reliving details when she decided to report it in 2004 was "the crisis of faith" she underwent.

"I lost Jesus in this," Albrecht said, adding she still considers herself a Christian. "I don't know how that happened, but it did. How do I get that back?"

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Bennett were unsuccessful. Bennett was removed from the ministry in 2006, about two years after Albrecht came forward.

Albrecht said she did not report the abuse until she was an adult, and then felt the archdiocese did not believe her.

"Today is not a happy, joyous day for me," the Steger housewife said Tuesday. "I'm very grateful I survived this. I didn't think I would."

Brancato, 39, said he was raped at the ages of 12 and 13 by the Rev. James R. Steel, a priest at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling.

"It will never be over for me," Brancato said. Still in therapy and on medication after "26 years of burying it deep inside, of suicide attempts, I now know that it wasn't my fault," Brancato said.

A telephone listing for James R. Steel, who resigned in 1992, could not be located.

Albrecht said she wants to meet with George, who also is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As part of the settlement, George agreed to make a public apology and also privately apologize to each victim, said attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented some of the victims.

"My hope is that these settlements will help the survivors and their families begin to heal and move forward," George said in a statement. "I apologize again today to the survivors and their families and to the whole Catholic community."


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