Chicago Catholic Church to Expose Abusive Priests: Attorney

August 29, 2011

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Chicago's Catholic archdiocese will allow dozens of former priests accused of child sexual abuse to be identified as part of a settlement that moves the church closer to naming all offending clergy, a lawyer for abuse victims said on Monday.

The undisclosed financial settlement with the nation's third-largest diocese on behalf of 12 abuse victims promises to identify as many as 35 former diocesan priests as offenders, a significant advance in the protection of children, attorney Jeff Anderson said.

"This establishes a strict protocol for the review of every file" the diocese has on abusive priests, said Anderson, who has worked on more than a hundred abuse cases involving the Chicago archdiocese and collected some $50 million in settlements.

"This protocol, if implemented, is on the front end of the child protection movement," Anderson said.

Boston's archdiocese, where the priest abuse scandal broke a decade ago, set a new standard for transparency last week when it published the names of 159 accused clergy.

The Chicago archdiocese already lists 65 former clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. Anderson said he has brought cases involving roughly half of them.

Among those identified as part of the settlement was former priest Joseph Fitzharris, who was defrocked in 1991 but still lives in Chicago. Like many accused clergy, he has not been criminally charged in part because the abuses occurred long ago and the statute of limitations has expired, Anderson said.

Angel Santiago, a father of two who still wears a cross around his neck, told reporters he was abused by Fitzharris when he was 12 and 13 but suffered in silence until after his father and sister died.

Santiago's father loved his job as custodian at Fitzharris' church though the priest fired him in a move Santiago said he believes was punishment for his own absence from the church to avoid the priest.

"I'm here to protect kids," Santiago said of the importance to him of naming offending priests. "I'm not afraid anymore."

Fitzharris could not be reached for comment.

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