Archdiocese Releases Documents Detailing Sexual Abuse by Priests

By Francine Knowles, Kim Janssen and Art Golab
Chicago Sun-Times
January 21, 2014

Attorney Jeff Anderson, left, places his hand on the files of Catholic priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors in the Archdiocese of Chicago, prior to a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Chicago. Joining Anderson is attorney Marc Pearlman.

The Archdiocese of Chicago took steps to conceal sexual abuse by serial abusers, promoted and moved priests with multiple accusations against them and had victims making the allegations investigated, archdiocese documents released Tuesday reveal.

The documents cover abuse allegations against 30 priests that surfaced under the leadership of Cardinals John Cody, Joseph Bernardin and Francis George.

Conspicuously absent in many of the more than 6,000 pages of documents were any signs that many of the allegations were ever immediately reported to law enforcement authorities for their investigation.

Among the revelations in the documents:

◆ Vincent McCaffrey, who was ultimately sentenced to 20 years for child pornography, had been allowed by Bernardin and Cody to remain in ministry and relocate to other parishes after allegations of abuse. McCaffrey ultimately admitted to molesting more than a dozen victims between 1976 and 1990. He wasn’t defrocked until 2010.

◆ Bernardin agreed to appoint Robert Mayer as pastor of a Berwyn church after multiple allegations of sexual abuse were levied against him. The promotion was supported by the church’s board of vicars. After more allegations surfaced, Bernardin forced him to resign.

◆ The late priest Robert Becker, who at times was accused of abusing in tandem with the late priest Kenneth Ruge, was moved following allegations. Among one of the multiple allegations was abuse against three children in one family.

The documents, posted online by attorneys Marc Pearlman and Jeff Anderson, also showed that:

◆ Fourteen archdiocese priests with allegations of abuse were placed back in ministry despite potential danger to minors.

◆ George was aware of allegations of abuse by several priests including Kenneth Brigham, who had sought to adopt a child, and Norbert Maday, who was convicted of abuse and whom George took steps to have released from prison early.

Anderson and Pearlman represent clients who sued the archdiocese over abuse allegations and won settlements. The legal action resulted in an agreement for the archdiocese to release the documents to them. All documents are available online at and

Of the 30 priests included, 14 are dead and the remainder are no longer in ministry, according to the archdiocese. About 95 percent of the reported allegations occurred before 1988, and none occurred after 1996, it said.

Just before turning the documents over to attorneys last week, Bishop Francis Kane, vicar general of the archdiocese, said mistakes were made, but there was no intent to cover up.

But 62-year-old Joseph Iacono, who said he was abused by the late Rev. Thomas Kelly 50 years ago in Northlake, said “that’s very hard for me to digest.”

According to the archdiocese, before 1992, employees were expected to report sexual misconduct as part of “general personnel management,” spokeswoman Susan Burritt said in a statement. “It was not the subject of formal policy.”

Since 2002, allegations of sexual misconduct are reported immediately to civil authorities, and no priest with one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor can serve in public ministry.

“The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “They made those decisions in accordance with the prevailing knowledge at the time. In the past 40 years, society has evolved in dealing with matters related to abuse.

“... We realize the information included in these documents is upsetting. It is painful to read. It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be. The Archdiocese sincerely apologizes for the hurt and suffering of the victims and their families as a result of this abuse.”

Iacono doesn’t buy the church’s claim that decades ago the church didn’t really know how best to handle such allegations.

“Was it not important to protect children in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s?” he asks.

He hopes the documents release “will help individuals that are out there that are suffering in silence like I was to come forward and begin to deal with their life and realize that they were a victim,” Iacono said. “I also hope it will clear a pathway for other institutions where there is abuse going on to realize you need to protect the victims and not the institution. If you step up right away and do that, you will be admired…but if you back away from it like the Catholic Church did, you’re going to leave a very bad impression on people for a very long time.”


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