Settlements Reached in Chicago Clergy Abuse Cases

Associated Press, carried in The Times
August 13, 2008

CHICAGO | Chicago's Catholic archdiocese agreed Tuesday to pay more than $12.6 million to settle lawsuits by 16 people who accused priests of sexual abuse over three decades, including one who served in South Holland.

"My hope is that these settlements will help the survivors and their families begin to heal and move forward," Cardinal Francis George said in a statement in which he also offered an apology for the abuse.

Two cases involving Joseph Bennett, who served at Holy Ghost Church in South Holland, also were involved in the settlement, according to the archdiocese. Two women came forward in 2006 accusing Bennett of abusing them nearly 40 years ago while teaching religious education classes at St. John De La Salle Church at East 103rd Street and South King Drive on the city's South Side.

Bennett served at Holy Ghost in South Holland from 1998 to 2006, when the archdiocese removed him from the ministry amid abuse allegations.

Fourteen of the cases involve sexual abuse by 10 different priests. Two involve an 11th priest, the Rev. Daniel J. McCormack, who pleaded guilty last year to abusing five children. He is serving a five-year prison sentence.

Despite the settlement, plaintiff Therese Albrecht said it was "not a happy, joyous day for me."

Albrecht, 48, of Steger, said she has been in therapy and at one point was suicidal since she was raped and sodomized from age 8 to 11 by Bennett, a priest at St. John De La Salle on Chicago's South Side. She said she did not report the abuse until she was an adult, and then felt the archdiocese did not believe her.

"I'm very grateful I survived this. I didn't think I would," Albrecht said.

Attempts on Tuesday by The Associated Press to reach Bennett were unsuccessful. Three listed phone numbers for a Joseph R. Bennett in Illinois were disconnected and no one picked up at a fourth listing.

The latest settlements were reached through a mediation process in which the cardinal himself gave a lengthy deposition.

In the deposition, George answered searching questions from an attorney for victims about why priests accused of sexual abuse were not removed.

He acknowledged that he took no action when an archdiocese review board recommended removing McCormack from the ministry two months after the priest was arrested in August 2005.

"They gave me that advice, yes," George said in the deposition. "I wish that I had followed it with all my heart."

At the time, George said, he "thought that they had not finished the investigation -- they hadn't considered all the evidence."

Attorneys said it was the first time such a candid question-and-answer session under oath by one of the Catholic Church's top leaders had been unsealed and made public because of a settlement agreement. A similar deposition came out during a clergy abuse trial in California. George previously acknowledged he failed to act soon enough in McCormack's case.

The mediation also calls for other information and files to be made public, the archdiocese said.

The settlement brings to $65 million the total paid by the archdiocese over three decades to settle about 250 claims, Chancellor Jimmy Lago said.

-- Associated Press writer Carla K. Johnson and Times staff contributed to this report.

The 11 priests involved in cases:

-- Robert C. Becker, died in 1989

-- Joseph R. Bennett, removed from the ministry in 2006

-- Robert Craig, resigned in 1993

-- James C. Hagan, resigned in 1997

-- Thomas F. Kelly, died in 1990

-- Norbert Maday, removed from the ministry in 1993 and now in prison

-- Robert E. Mayer, resigned in 1994

-- Daniel J. McCormack, removed from the ministry in 2006 and now in prison

-- Joseph Owens, resigned in 1970

-- Kenneth C. Ruge, died in 2002

-- James Steel, resigned in 1992


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