The Rev. Raymond Goedert, Andrea Doria survivor and high-ranking priest who failed to report sexual abuse cases, dies at 96

Chicago Tribune

January 5, 2024

By Bob Goldsborough

The Rev. Raymond Goedert was a confidant of cardinals who served as acting head of the Archdiocese of Chicago after Cardinal Joseph Bernardin died in 1996, and later acknowledged his failure to report sexual abuse accusations against priests.

Goedert, 96, died of natural causes on Dec. 9 at his Gold Coast home, said his cousin, John Holden. A longtime Chicago resident, Goedert resided in the residence of Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich on North State Parkway.

Born in Oak Park, Goedert attended Quigley Preparatory Seminary and then earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein.

In 1952, Goedert was ordained to the priesthood, and several years later he was studying in Rome. On his way back to the United States, he was aboard the trans-Atlantic SS Andrea Doria ocean liner off the coast of Massachusetts when it collided with a Swedish passenger liner.

The Andrea Doria eventually sank 225 feet to the bottom of the ocean, but not before the vast majority of its passengers were rescued. However, 46 people on the ship perished from the collision, and the tragedy left a significant imprint on Goedert.

“I believe the care and attention he gave to people was shaped in part or at least reinforced by having survived the wreck of the Andrea Doria in 1956,” said the Rev. Scott Donahue, president and CEO of the Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, a longtime friend and colleague. “That experience forever colored his approach to life, which was to appreciate that every moment we have is a gift from God and is not to be wasted.”

“He was extraordinarily patient with people and a great listener. He was known for asking questions and he truly listened to and respected the responses he received in return,” Donahue said.

In 1979, Goedert described his emotions as he watched the Andrea Doria sink.

“I think we kid ourselves as priests,” he told the Tribune. “We talk of the joy and happiness of heaven. I was faced with the prospect and found that I was not all that happy to go. I was willing to wait.”

After he was ordained, Goedert was an assistant pastor at several parishes in the city, including St. Gabriel and Blessed Sacrament parishes, and also at Mater Christi parish in North Riverside. He was pastor at St. Barnabas parish in the South Side Beverly neighborhood from 1976 until 1987.

In 1973, Goedert was elected president of the Chicago Priests’ Senate. He and the Senate battled with Chicago’s cardinal at the time, John Cody, over a plan to close four South Side Catholic schools. He stepped down from his two-year term in that role in 1975.

From 1987 until 1991, Goedert was a vicar of priests — or in lay terms, a pastor of all other priests — serving from St. Andrew parish on the North Side. In 1991, Goedert was named auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Chicago, and he was elevated to be vicar general of the archdiocese in 1995.

Weakened from the battle with cancer that soon claimed his life, Bernardin in 1996 turned over the day-to-day operations of the Archdiocese of Chicago to Goedert. It was a role Goedert also had held the previous year, while Bernardin had undergone cancer surgery.

Goedert retired as vicar general in 2003 but briefly held the role again the following year on an interim basis.

In 2009, Goedert’s testimony in a lawsuit filed by victims of sexual abuse against the church detailed the church’s failure to report the crimes. The lawsuit covered six cases involving sexual abuse by four priests between 1970 and 1986.

In an 180-page deposition, Goedert testified that most of the priests he confronted with sexual abuse charges admitted the abuse, but that he felt compelled to treat such matters confidentially under church law.

“I knew the civil law considered it a crime,” Goedert testified. “I simply would not talk about (the cases) to anyone except those who had a right to know because of their position in the diocese.”

Goedert’s testimony showed “how deeply ingrained secrecy” was in the archdiocese, Barbara Dorris, the outreach director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said at the time. The archdiocese ultimately agreed to pay $6.9 million to settle the six cases.

In April 2015, Goedert provided last rites to Cardinal Francis George, by anointing George with oil and bestowing the sacrament of the sick, while the cardinal’s longtime assistant, the Rev. Dan Flens, gave George Holy Communion.

“The hope is the blessing will possibly heal the person if possible, but especially help the person to face death and put them at peace,” Goedert told the Tribune after George died. “He was certainly, in my mind, at peace at the end.”

There were no immediate survivors.

Services were held.

Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.