Secret': Catholic Sexual Abuse in the Black Community
By M. Muhammad
February 5, 2014
|Attorney Jeff Anderson,
left, places his hand on the files of Catholic priests
credibly accused of sexually abusing minors in the Archdiocese
of Chicago, prior to a news conference, Jan. 21, in Chicago.
Joining Anderson is Attorney Marc Pearlman.
|In this March 14, 2013, file
photo, Chicago Cardinal Francis George speaks during an
interview with the Associated Press in Rome, Italy. The
Archdiocese of Chicago spent decades covering up the sexual
abuse of children according to documents released by Church
officials and made public on Jan 21, by victims’ attorneys.
George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, released a
letter to parishioners on Jan. 12 in which he apologized for
the abuse and said releasing the records “raises transparency
to a new level.” He also stressed that much of the abuse
occurred decades ago, before he became archbishop. He said all
of the incidents eventually were reported to civil authorities
and resulted in settlements with victims. But victims’ lawyers
have stressed that many of the allegations, if not the actual
abuse, surfaced after George assumed control of the
archdiocese, and some of the documents relate to how the
church handled the cases much more recently
|A Three Part Final Call News
Series Examining Black Victims of Sexual Abuse by Catholic
CHICAGO (FinalCall.com) - Files released by the Chicago
Catholic Archdiocese show decades of systematic secrecy and
protection of pedophile priests, however, for some victims of
abuse, the nightmare continues and justice remains elusive.
David Nolan is 46-years-old. His harrowing tales of
abuse began at 13 years of age as Father Victor Stewart, now
deceased, used his authority and power to have sex with dozens of
young boys at will, and seemingly without any fear of being
The Nolan tragedy provides almost a case study into how
pedophile priests victimized the Black community.
In files released as part of a settlement in a sexual
abuse case, the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese was clearly aware of
many allegations of sexual abuse involving Fr. Stewart. Documents
show victims reported Fr. Stewart and other priests were “part of
a club that participated in pedophilia.”
Mr. Nolan said the church shuffled priests from parish
to parish to protect its image, not children and families in the
church. Church leaders knew all along abuse charges were true, he
said. “I’ve continued to be abused over the years not only by the
Chicago Archdiocese, but by our legal system. It destroyed my
marriage because I didn’t have no recourse, I didn’t know how to
deal with it, it destroyed my relationships with family, so now
to hear that these documents are being released I’m saddened.
I’m dismayed. I’m disappointed because the church I grew
up loving—when they had a chance to really display spirit and
truth of Christ—they chose to persecute me and label me as a
Fr. Stewart was considered a godfather to the many young
boys with no role models or mentors. As a religious figure in a
crime-ridden Englewood neighborhood, he was placed on a pedestal.
Many of the young men from impoverished backgrounds enjoyed
receiving gifts Fr. Stewart showered them with, new clothes, gym
shoes and video games. Those gifts came with a
price—inappropriate touching, sex, and a vow of secrecy.
From time to time, young boys would actually live at the
rectory, and according to legal files and testimonies, the sexual
abuse was an open secret. Not all of the victims were young
teenagers. Some reported abuse beginning at age 16 or 17 and
continuing until ages 20 or 21.
Mr. Nolan even tried to tell the Chicago police about
the abuse. He said he was called a liar and ridiculed.
At several churches where Fr. Stewart served, there were
multiple allegations of sexual abuse. There was a report of
sexual abuse when Fr. Stewart was at St. Catherine of Genoa
parish and the survivor was in high school. According to the
archdiocese report: “The abuse consisted of oral sex on the
survivor and occurred about once per month in high school.”
Fr. Stewart reportedly sexually abused minors from
1981-1986 while serving at St. Charles Lwanga parish. The parish
council of St. Ailbe’s church, where he served in the early
1990s, was “upset because they see boys coming and going from the
rectory at all hours,” documents show. The two parishes consisted
of majority Black congregations and all three are on the city’s
He was also accused of embezzling funds, money victims
say was used to coerce and control them.
In October 1991, a memo in his file noted the latest
sexual abuse “accusations against him are well-founded and that
someone is pushing for boys to come forward.” Yet a January 1992
letter from the Sex Crimes Division chief of the Cook County
attorney’s office announced the unit had ended its investigation,
and there would be no charges.
After leaving that church, Fr. Stewart served at Mercy
Rehab Center. An April 1992 memo suggested that he not be alone
with teenagers who worked at the center without another adult
present. A June 1992 memo added, “Stewart will have to get
therapy and be under monitoring for a long time.”
“The most disturbing thing about this is that the
Chicago Archdiocese fought tooth and nail and called me a liar,”
said Mr. Nolan. “I’m deeply disturbed by it because they made me
out to be a liar for 30 years! It’s disturbing because a lot of
my friends and brothers were abused and have continued to suffer
because of this abuse.”
In a Jan. 21 statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago said
their awareness and understanding of the problem of sexual abuse
within the church represents a new reality and abuse of any child
is a sin. They asked victims of priest sexual abuse to continue
to come forward.
“Today no priest with even one substantiated allegation
of sexual abuse of a minor serves in ministry in the Archdiocese
of Chicago,” the statement continued. “The Archdiocese
acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago
that are now difficult to justify.”
Those decisions have also cost the Catholic Church
millions of dollars in America and abroad in civil suits won by
Allegations of racial discrimination
In November 2009, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of
Chicago delivered a report to The Final Call complied by
the law firm Pugh, Jones, Johnson and Quant dealing with charges
of racial discrimination in the abuse settlement process. Many
Black victims of priest sexual abuse believe their cases were not
treated with the importance of cases brought by wealthier White
congregants. According to the report, there was no evidence of
racial discrimination during the review or settlement process,
however, the charge persists.
Attorney Phillip Aaron, who for over a decade has
represented Black victims of sexual abuse by priests, said no one
reached out to his office to speak with any of his clients for
that 2009 report. How could the church conclude there was no
discrimination without talking to those who made the accusations?
he asked. Rather than trying to be fair and just, the archdiocese
went out of its way to avoid talking or communicating with any of
my clients, said Atty. Aaron. “There’s been no contact with me
about the Black clients—not even a whisper,” he added.
To critics, it is disingenuous to hear Cardinal George
say he was unaware of sexual abuse claims. Reports alleging
sexual abuse have been sent to The Vatican since the 1950s.
Although he was not the leader of the Catholic Archdiocese when
many of these abuses occurred, the problem of Catholic priest
sexual abuse is well-known.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)
holds regular protests and wants current and former Chicago
Catholic church staff and members to help protect children by
identifying pedophile priests, making sure their histories are
known. In some cases, offending priests—though removed from
public clerical duties—are living among unsuspecting neighbors,
Some of these clerics would be behind bars, SNAP said,
if not for three factors. First, in many cases, Catholic
officials shielded them from law enforcement for years. Second,
church officials have long lobbied against reforming what SNAP
called “archaic and predator-friendly secular child safety laws.”
And third, when credible abuse allegations surface, church
officials are slow to conduct effective outreach to identify
other victims or witnesses, said the advocacy group.
“SNAP fears that many who were abused by Stewart are
still suffering in silence, shame and self-blame, in part because
of the severity of his crimes. Stewart also worked primarily in
African-American communities where, more families tend to
struggle with economic need and tend to distrust authorities,
especially law enforcement,” according to a recent statement on
The scandals appear to be taking a toll. The Chicago
church had paid $77 million for sexual abuse settlements as of
2008, according to the Catholic News Agency. At least six Chicago
area Catholic schools are closing by the end of this school year
due to declining enrollment. The number of Blacks identifying
themselves as Catholics in Chicago is shrinking. The Chicago
Archdiocese serves just over 2.2 million Catholics and
approximately 66,000 or 3 percent are Black. This is down from
90,000 self-identified Black Catholics just two years prior.
According to the United States Conference on Catholic Bishops,
there are 3 million Black Catholics in America.
Reginald Montgomery is another victim of priest sexual
abuse who was represented by Atty. Aaron. They spoke briefly
after reports of the most recent release of files appeared in the
His traumatic stories of abuse also began when he was
13. He was homeless after his mother kicked him out for
misbehaving. Mr. Montgomery looked up to his priest as a father
figure and was allowed to sleep upstairs in the rectory. Late one
night, he was awakened by the priest rubbing on his body. Before
he realized what was happening, it was too late. He was
overpowered and raped.
Days after the document release, the Catholic
Archdiocese of Chicago and a lawyer for an alleged sexual abuse
victim announced a $3.2 million settlement. The lawsuit by the
plaintiff, who hasn’t been identified, accused the archdiocese of
failing to promptly remove Daniel McCormack after claims he
abused children had emerged. Plaintiff attorneys say their client
was abused as a boy between the eighth and 11th grades.
“We are pleased to have reached this settlement because
it marks one more step toward bringing justice to the victim and
his family,” Attorney William F. Martin said in a statement.
The archdiocese noted Jan. 30 that the settlement was
reached with help from a mediator.
“The Archdiocese continues to encourage the use of
alternatives to litigation to resolve claims of sexual misconduct
in a just, fair and compassionate manner,” it said. “The
Archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a
priest, deacon, religious or lay employee, to come forward.” Mr.
McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children. He was
sentenced to five years in prison and removed from priesthood.
He’s currently confined to a state mental health facility. Other
civil claims against the Chicago church are still pending.
Losses as a result of church failures to act are also
mounting: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena, Montana filed for
bankruptcy protection Jan. 31 as part of a proposed $15 million
settlement for hundreds of victims who say clergy members
sexually abused them over decades while the church covered it up.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena, Mont., includes
the Cathedral of St. Helena. The diocese filed for bankruptcy
protection but doesn’t expect to liquidate any of its assets.
Diocese spokesman Dan Bartleson said the Chapter 11 bankruptcy
reorganization plan comes after confidential mediation sessions
with the plaintiffs’ attorneys and insurers, resulting in the
deal to resolve the abuse claims.
The settlement details are being worked out, but the
U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Montana would be responsible for
approving and supervising the disbursement of $15 million to
compensate the 362 victims identified in the two lawsuits. In
addition, at least $2.5 million will be set aside for victims who
come forward later, spokesman Bartleson said.