Settlement Resolves Lawsuits Accusing 11 Catholic Priests of Sexual Abuse
By Jay Levine, Susan Carlson, and Joanie Lum
August 12, 2008
http://cbs2chicago.com/local/priest.abuse.settlement.2.793268.html [Includes video from which this report was collated. Screenshots at right are from the video.]
Chicago -- Cardinal Francis George was apologizing Tuesday to victims of the priest sex scandal. He said the system that was in place by the Catholic Church failed, but he hopes the settlements will bring some healing.
The settlements total $12.675 million. In addition to money, the church must also provide the survivors with spiritual counseling and long-term therapy.
Various amounts are being doled out to the 16 victims, two of whom were abused by Father Dan McCormack, former pastor of St. Agatha's on the West Side. He pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children and is currently facing a five year prison term.
Four out of the five civil cases now against McCormack have been settled.
When McCormack was criminally charged in early 2006, George and the Archdiocese faced sharp criticism for not removing him from ministry upon the first allegations of abuse several months earlier.
The controversy continued after McCormack pleaded guilty, when critics said his plea deal spared the archdiocese embarrassing testimony about mismanagement and foot-dragging in the case, and accused the church of being secretive.
George has repeatedly apologized for the handling of the McCormack case, which has changed the way the Archdiocese handled sexual abuse cases. George apologized to all of the victims again on Tuesday.
"In the sense that I'm responsible for the Archdiocese, I have to accept the blame," George said. "I think the decisions as I made them were based upon what was in front of me at any one time, but I regret with all my heart that I didn't feel I was able to take (McCormack) out immediately."
Father Larry Dowling is still introducing himself to the neighborhood. He was brought in to replace McCormack and reassure parents that their children are safe at St. Agatha's.
"A number of people have approached me and said 'Can we talk through some of this stuff? Because I don't understand what happened, in terms of the larger church and all that.'"
Dowling said he believes Tuesday's announcement the settlement with sex abuse victims is a step in the right direction.
The other cases that were settled involve 10 different priests, all of whom are either deceased or no longer with the church.
In a rare move, the cardinal was deposed in the process of reaching this settlement. He was questioned under oath for eight hours by attorneys representing the victims. He has also apologized and agreed to meet personally with each of the victims.
"All we can do is try to help the victims and in doing that recognize the sinfulness of this terrible abuse and the church is full of sinners, but the consequences of sin remain and we have to live with those consequences," Cardinal George said.
One of the victims, Bob Brancato, said he was raped by both his principal and his priest, Father James Steel, at St. Joseph's in Wheeling in the early 1980s.
"26 years of burying it deep inside, suicide attempts, I now know that it wasn't my fault," Brancato said.
Theresa Albrecht said Father Joseph Bennett repeatedly raped and sodomized her, long before her first communion at St. John de LaSalle in Chicago. She reported it as an adult, but she said the church didn't respond quickly.
"Today is not a happy, joyous day for me," Albrecht said Tuesday, adding that she has been in therapy and at one point was suicidal. "I'm very grateful I survived this. I didn't think I would."
"They did nothing for over two years. Who knows how many little kids got raped?" Albrecht added.
Most of the cases settled Tuesday are old ones, but mishandling the recent charges made against McCormack raised serious questions about the church's commitment to the protection of children.
"I think there's still some issues regarding trust in the greater church, but I think over time, that's rebuilding," Dowling said.
Dowling, charged with restoring the trust of one community in one parish, views his mission in much wider terms.
"It's about the local, but its also how to continue to press the diocese to make sure things are continuing being done as it should be done for the protection of children," Dowling said.
The victims said it's not about the money. What meant even more was the acknowledgement of wrongdoing by the church.
Attorney Jeff Anderson said, "There's no amount of money to give back what was taken from Theresa and Bob and 14 other survivors."
Cardinal George's deposition marked only the third time in U.S. history that a cardinal has testified under oath. The archdiocese is making the full transcript public. It's available on the archdiocese website.
The cardinal also wanted to make it clear that the money does not comes from parishioner donations. Instead, the Archdiocese is selling undeveloped assets to foot the bill.
To date, the Chicago Archdiocese has spent $65 million settling about 250 claims of sexual abuse. There are a couple dozen cases still pending.
The priests involved in the abuse are:
CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine, reporters Susan Carlson and Joanie Lum, the Associated Press and the STNG Wire contributed to this report.
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