Chicago Archdiocese to Pay $12.6 Million to 16 Sex Abuse Survivors

Catholic News Service
August 13, 2008

Chicago -- The Archdiocese of Chicago has agreed to pay 16 victims of clergy sex abuse more than $12.6 million in a settlement announced Aug. 12.

In addition to financial payments, the archdiocese agreed to make public additional information and files related to the cases, including the deposition of Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.

The settlement followed two years of mediation between the archdiocese and attorneys for the victims.

"I'm releasing the deposition voluntarily for the sake of the record and I hope to help the healing of everyone concerned in this matter," Cardinal George said at an Aug. 12 press conference to announce the settlement.

"I want to take this occasion to apologize again for the sexual abuse of minors committed by some priests," he said. "I have met and apologized to victims and their families many times over the past years. I hope I will have the chance to do so with these victims."

Attorney Jeffrey Anderson, who partnered with lawyer Marc Pearlman of the Chicago law firm of Kerns, Frost & Pearlman in representing the victims, called the settlement "a giant step" toward accountability and transparency on the part of the church.

"I call it a great beginning toward not just accountability but toward the kind of transparency that has been lacking in the clerical culture, not just in the Archdiocese of Chicago but elsewhere," he told Catholic News Service. "It isn't the end. It isn't a solution, but a beginning to a more cooperative solution to what remains a crisis."

At a separate news conference Aug. 12, Anderson was flanked by two of the victims who are part of the settlement. Bob Brancato told reporters he was raped over the course of two years by Donald Ryniecki, then principal of St. Joseph the Worker School in Wheeling, and then-Father James Steel, the pastor, who resigned in 1992.

"Now I am able to look in the mirror and realize that I have helped protect kids who have yet to be born, kids who are born and other victims who are gathering the strength to report their abuse," Brancato said.

Therese Albrecht told of reporting to the archdiocese in 2004 that she had been raped by Father Joseph Bennett when she was a child at St. John de la Salle Parish on Chicago's far South Side, then waiting two more years to see Father Bennett, then assigned to Holy Ghost Parish in South Holland, removed from ministry.

"They delayed and delayed and delayed and they left him in that church," Albrecht said. "The priests and the leadership of the church are supposed to be a reflection of Jesus, who laid down his life for his sheep. All I asked them to do was believe me."

According to Cardinal George's deposition, Father Bennett was not removed from ministry as soon as he could have been because he did not have a canon lawyer to represent him during the investigation.

Since then, procedures have changed, and priests who are accused of sexual abuse are asked to step aside from their ministry while an investigation proceeds.

The mediation process that led to the settlement involved extensive talks among Anderson, Pearlman and the archdiocese. The process included the sharing of documents and other information and the use of an arbitrator to resolve disputes.

Thomas Gibbons, an attorney and dean of the School of Continuing Studies at Northwestern University, served as mediator. Stuart Nudelman, a retired judge, was the arbitrator.

Gibbons told CNS the mediation process was designed to allow victims to be heard as well as for victims to hear apologies from church officials. "There's a lot of benefit in that," he said.

While Gibbons has been mediating cases involving the archdiocese and victims for several years, he said the most recent process was the first that started after civil lawsuits were filed.

"We've had different approaches as we tried to design these mediations," he explained. "We wanted to see what works better and what works best for the victims and their comfort level. There was a concern at first they would perhaps feel awkward or feel uncomfortable being across the table from the (church) institution. But actually we've learned that having a representatives of the vicar present and speaking on behalf of the cardinal was very beneficial."

The settlement covers 14 cases of abuse involving 10 priests between 1962 and 1994. The two others relate to Father Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges related to the abuse of five children. He is serving a five-year prison sentence.

A statement from the archdiocese said that one of the five cases in which he pleaded guilty remains to be settled.

The incidents involving Father McCormack brought widespread criticism to the archdiocese in 2006, when it was discovered that he remained as pastor of St. Agatha Parish on Chicago's West Side even as police were investigating reports that he had abused two boys. At the time, the archdiocese reported that it had no mechanism to remove the priest despite the investigation because the victim did not make a statement to church officials.

The McCormack case led the archdiocese to revise its policy regarding the reporting of alleged clergy abuse.

The archdiocese released the names of all 11 priests involved in the settlement. The others were Fathers Robert Becker, Thomas Kelly, and Kenneth Ruge, all deceased; Joseph Bennett, who was removed from ministry in 2006; Robert Craig, who resigned in 1993; James Hagan, who resigned in 1997; Norbert Maday, who was removed from ministry in 1993 and is in prison; Robert Mayer, who resigned in 1994; and Joseph Owens, who resigned in 1970.


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