Ex-Priest: 'I Got Away with Murder'

By Kate N. Grossman
Chicago Sun-Times
October 4, 2002

The first e-mail arrived at Bill Cloutier's brick Skokie home two weeks ago.

At first, the former priest was scared--yet another boy was accusing him of sexual abuse. Then he considered ignoring it. Finally, the ailing 53-year-old decided to let his accuser have his say.

"If I don't confront it, who will?" said Cloutier, a soft-spoken man with thinning brown hair. "I think it's important for me, for peace of mind for those I did victimize."

Over the last two weeks, Cloutier, in a bout of honesty unusual among accused priests, has poured out his soul to his accuser, 29-year-old Matthew Dalton.

He says he doesn't remember abusing Dalton and says he doesn't know if it happened, but acknowledged taking advantage of three teens. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago knew about those incidents, which happened while he was at St. Damian's in Oak Forest in 1979. Cloutier was sent to a residential treatment center for six months and to therapy for years.

"I got away with murder," said Cloutier, who resigned from the priesthood in 1993 after he was removed from a Skokie church. He now runs his own computer consulting business.

In his e-mails and in an interview, Cloutier took aim at the archdiocese for returning him to a parish after the first abuse allegations, and castigated himself for going into the priesthood at all.

"I realized that underneath, it was all false," Cloutier said Thursday.

Shortly after he resigned, he says he remembered being abused by a priest when he was growing up on the South Side. That experience, he says he now realizes, distorted his perception of what the priesthood was all about.

"What I'd been doing was replicating the pattern of the guy who abused me," he said, adding that he thinks he probably became a priest to wield power over others, as his abuser did over him.

Dalton, who says he recently recovered suppressed memories of abuse when he was a pre-teen, lives in Berwyn and owns an Internet business. He's married with two children.

Dalton says the e-mail correspondence has helped him understand Cloutier, who he says fondled him three times when he was an altar boy.

"I want to expose the system that covered up his actions. And beyond that, [Cloutier] is still out there. He needs to be identified so parents know who he is," Dalton said.

Dalton plans to file a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese and Cloutier in the next few weeks.

Cloutier landed at Dalton's parish, St. Peter, after the six months of treatment and four years as chaplain at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Cloutier says he resisted the move, appealing directly to the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin himself.

"I should not have been assigned," Cloutier said. "I said it was safer to stay out of parish work."

Cloutier said his plea fell on deaf ears--but there is no way to confirm that. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said he was "not aware of anyone being sent to a parish who didn't want to be there." He also said archdiocese staff involved with those decisions in 1985 do not remember Cloutier resisting his assignment.

Cloutier, who has had no contact with the archdiocese since 1993, says he supports the policy passed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this year that a priest who has sexually abused a child would be removed from ministry forever. He also said he's satisfied with the archdiocese's handling of these matters now.

"It was kept secret in the past to protect the church and to protect the priest himself," Cloutier said. "During that time, kids barely came next."


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