Settlement Reached in Priest Sex Abuse Case

By Leah Hope
August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011 (CHICAGO) (WLS) -- A settlement has been reached in a priest sex abuse case in Chicago that dates back more than 25 years.

Now the victim, Angel Santiago Jr., is talking about the abuse he says he endured by former priest Joseph Fitzharris, who employed Santiago's father.

Relatives say Santiago stayed away from church, became withdrawn and turned into a fearful young man. Years later, they would learn what happened and that he kept quiet so his father wouldn't lose his job at the church.

The church where Fitzharris served on the Northwest Side has a new name but in the 1980s it was known as St. Francis Xavier. It was the center of spiritual and social life for the Santiagos. Angel Santiago Sr. was a custodian there for 14 years. The settlement with the Archdiocese of Church confirms that Fitzharris was abusing Angel Jr. After his father's death, Santiago broke his silence.

"It's been more than 25 years that I've been scared, 25 years that I've been frightened," he told ABC7.

Santiago's attorneys announced the settlement Monday on behalf of Santiago and other abuse victims.

"Angel was 12 or 13 years old and this family trusted this priest and this parish. This priest abused that trust," said Jeff Anderson, Santiago's attorney.

"The only way truly to end this is if we put all the information we have out there and learn from it," said Marc Pearlman, Santiago's attorney.

The Archdiocese of Chicago confirms Fitzharris was removed from ministry and officially laicized.

The Santiago family says Fitzharris eventually fired their father when Angel Jr. refused to go back to the church.

Angel Jr.'s sister urges those who have been victims of abuse to get help and speak up.

"They need to come forward. They're not alone. You're not alone. There is hope. You need to speak. By holding it in, you're never going to have a free life. You're never going to be happy," said Nancy Santiago.

"I'm not afraid anymore. I have my family. I'm getting help," said Angel Santiago Jr.

Attorneys for Santiago say part of the settlement will allow more access to the background of priests accused of abuse.

The Archdiocese of Chicago would only say that the settlement clarifies how information is shared and in a reaction to the settlement issued a statement saying, "The archdiocese continues to work for the healing of all those affected by the tragedy of child and adolescent sexual abuse."

ABC7 reached out to Fitzharris, who still lives in the area, but was unable to reach him.

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