Study: Dozens of Southland Churches Have Had Priests Accused of Sex Abuse

By Elisabeth Martin
Southtown Star
October 12, 2010,101210catholicabuse.article

More than half of the parishes in the Archdiocese of Chicago, including dozens in the Southland, have had priests accused of sexually abusing children working there at some point, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by reform groups Voice of the Faithful, African American Advocates for Victims of Clergy and Sexual Abuse and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, tracked the assignment records of 97 priests whose alleged abuse was either confirmed by the archdiocese or substantiated through media reports or a lawsuit.

Of the Chicago area's approximately 400 Catholic parishes, 256 have employed priests accused of abuse, and nearly half of those have had multiple priests accused of sexual misconduct working there at some point, the study concluded.

"One thing that it shows is how widespread the abuse is," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network. "Most Catholics tend to think that the abuse happened somewhere else, but it's not just sporadic here or there."

In conducting the study, the reform groups spent five years examining data from the Official Catholic Directory and, a group based near Boston that tracks church abuse claims. The dates of service for the priests ranged from 1917 to present day.

Eight of the parishes identified in the report, including St. Christina Parish in Chicago's Mount Greenwood community, have employed at least four priests accused of abuse, the study said. Of the four priests accused at St. Christina, John Curran was removed from service at the parish in 1994, while Robert Stepek and Joseph Bennett went on to work at other parishes before the allegations surfaced. A fourth priest, Richard Gregory Theisen, worked at St. Christina in 1966 and was defrocked in 2001.

Rev. Larry Sullivan, the current pastor at St. Christina, called the abuse "horrendous" and said the parish has taken steps to teach church volunteers and employees how to spot potential abuse.

"I think the church really is trying its best to prevent this from happening again," he said.

Many of the parishes with multiple accused priests were in low-income neighborhoods across the city and suburbs, which raises concerns about whether the archdiocese used poorer communities as "dumping grounds" for predators, Blaine said.

Advocates also think that the number of sexual predator priests in the Chicago area is likely underreported. founder Terry McKiernan said that the Archdiocese of Boston, which is roughly the size of Chicago's, has released the names of twice as many priests accused of abuse as Chicago.

"We're pretty much convinced that most of the names of the predators in the U.S. haven't been made public," Blaine said.

The Archdiocese of Chicago said in a statement Monday that although officials had not seen a copy of the report, the analysis and conclusions sounded "questionable."

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