Cardinal Blase Cupich demanding details on abusive order priests but won’t post findings
By Robert Herguth
February 5, 2021
The Archdiocese of Chicago has been getting explicit details from religious orders on problem priests in the area for over two years. But it’s keeping that information secret. Some orders won’t release it, either.
Two and a half years after the latest sex abuse scandal rocked the Catholic church and prompted new pledges of transparency, the church in the Chicago region has yet to make a full accounting to the public of its problem priests.
Cardinal Blase Cupich has demanded for more than two years now that Catholic religious orders that operate in his territory fully disclose to him any information on their clergy members who now face or previously have faced accusations of child sexual abuse.
But Cupich — who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, which covers Cook County and Lake County, and who reports to Pope Francis — has kept those findings secret. The archdiocese won’t say how many clerics from orders in the Chicago area have faced such accusations or make public any information about them, such as where those clergy members are today.
That’s despite Cupich’s stepped-up behind-the-scenes demands on the semi-autonomous religious orders to produce detailed reports on predator priests and other problem clergy in their ranks — information that some orders have made public but that others have declined to.
The refusal by the archdiocese to make public such information stands in contrast to the responses of other dioceses to the latest church scandal, including those in Joliet and Rockford. Both of those dioceses, which cover parts of the Chicago suburbs, identify order priests currently or formerly in their territories who have faced child sex abuse allegations.
Though the Archdiocese of Chicago hasn’t disclosed similar information for Cook and Lake counties, its website lists diocesan priests — who are under Cupich’s authority — to have faced “substantiated” child sex abuse allegations.
With each order handling its internal affairs differently and some declining to make public the same kind of information, that’s left the public in the dark regarding just how many predator priests, brothers and deacons there have been in the region.
That’s a troubling gap, according to the leaders of some religious orders, who say they not only make such information known to the public themselves but also have done so to the archdiocese in response to Cupich’s demands and church guidelines.
Crackdown on orders began in 2018
Among the events that prompted the archdiocese’s efforts to find out more information about problem clergy from religious orders were revelations in 2018 about a once-prominent Augustinian priest, Richard McGrath. After being accused of having child pornography on his cellphone, he’d been moved into a Hyde Park monastery that’s near a Catholic school and day care center, the Sun-Times reported in September 2018.
The Augustinians are among religious orders that have not released a public list of accused members in the Chicago area. The order is facing two lawsuits in Cook County that say its clerics abused students years ago at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox and St. Rita High School on the South Side.
“The order’s top officials, including those at the Midwest Augustinians, have employed a pattern and practice of concealing, hiding and not disclosing facts that sexually abusive brothers and religious served in positions with access to children,” says one of the suits, filed in 2020, which accuses a now-deceased cleric of having molested a male student at St. Rita in the 1970s.
According to the lawsuit, the order — which won’t comment on the suit — has “had numerous agents who sexually molested children.”
How other orders have responded
The Society of the Divine Word near Northbrook and the Redemptorists in Chicago say they have had members who’ve been accused of sexual abuse. Neither of those orders has made public the names of all of those credibly accused, though both say they intend to do so.
The Passionists in Park Ridge and the Christian Brothers in Burr Ridge won’t say whether they have created or plan to create a public list of clergy accused of abuse.
The Alexian Brothers order in Elk Grove Village doesn’t post such a list. The order, which has long been involved in hospitals in the Chicago area, says that’s because there have been no such accusations against its members.
The Carmelites — who help run Carmel High School in Mundelein, Mount Carmel High School on the South Side and Joliet Catholic Academy — released a list in November of what it said were 31 credibly accused clerics in the province that includes Chicago. Twenty had worked at some point in the Chicago area. Thirteen of the 20 are now dead. None of those still alive is currently in any public ministry, according to the order.
“Religious orders are not going to be able to turn the page unless they’re transparent,” says the Rev. Carl Markelz, who became the Carmelites’ provincial leader last June. “It helps the victims to move forward, and it helps us.”
Some religious orders with a presence in the Chicago area, including the Dominicans, didn’t respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Cupich, his chief operating officer Betsy Bohlen and their spokeswoman Paula Waters would not answer questions.
Do what we do, Cupich told orders in 2018
In 2018, Waters said the archdiocese’s policy is “to list all diocesan clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minor” on its website and that Cupich “calls on all religious orders and dioceses to do the same.”
But even when the orders have posted such information, the archdiocese hasn’t posted that same information.
The country is carved into dioceses, each headed by a bishop and staffed in large part by diocesan priests. Cupich’s domain includes more than 2 million Catholics. The priests who answer directly to him and who staff most parishes are the diocesan clergy.
Male religious orders are groups of priests and other clerics that often extend beyond the boundaries of a particular diocese, focus on a specific mission and identify with a particular philosophy or saint. The Franciscans, for instance, follow in the mold of St. Francis of Assisi, who embraced the poor and sick in the 1200s.
Religious orders have their own leaders and operate relatively freely within dioceses, though they need permission from the local bishop, such as Cupich, if they engage in public ministry, whether that’s in a parish, at a school or hospital or in some other charitable endeavor.
Regarding abusive clergy members in religious orders, Waters said in 2018 that the orders “are the only ones who have this information and can guarantee that their lists are complete.”
But, asked then whether the archdiocese keeps track of accused order priests within its boundaries, she said, “It is done on a regular basis.”
Cupich began demanding more information on members of the orders working or living in the Chicago region starting in 2018, leaders of some of the orders say.
That began after the Sun-Times reported on McGrath. Cupich’s office knew McGrath had been moved to the Hyde Park monastery near a Catholic school and day care center — he’d been living in Will County, in the Diocese of Joliet — but didn’t inform even its own school.
Cupich: unaware of some accusations
Cupich said at the time that he wasn’t told about all of the accusations against McGrath, who also has been accused in a pending lawsuit of molesting a male former student at Providence, the Catholic high school where McGrath was the longtime school president.
Beyond collecting only the names of order clergy in active ministry, Cupich’s office began taking steps to ensure it knows about order clergy within the archdiocese’s boundaries who are on inactive status.
The Sun-Times reported in early 2019 that three elderly Catholic clerics who had faced what were found to be credible allegations of long-ago sexual misconduct had been living for years on the grounds, known as Techny, of the Society of the Divine Word near Northbrook, though they weren’t involved in public ministry.
Cupich’s office learned they were living in the archdiocese only after tightening the reporting requirements months earlier.
One of the Society of the Divine Word priests, the Rev. Joe Fertal, was the subject of a lawsuit that church authorities in California settled after he was accused of molesting a teenage boy.
Another Society of the Divine Word cleric who’d been accused of abuse also was living at Techny and had been for decades, according to the order. A third arrived around 2005.
The order’s Chicago province leader, the Rev. Quang Dinh, said in 2019 that all three were in a supervised setting, weren’t allowed to leave the grounds except for things like doctor appointments and had not been allowed to perform public ministry for many years.
Now, Dinh says Fertal is “the only person with a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor living” still at Techny. He arrived in 2016 and remains “in poor health and . . . confined to a wheelchair,” Dinh says. “Since March 2020, due to COVID precautions, no visitors have been allowed at the Techny residence.”
“Two other Divine Word missionaries, one priest and one brother, who resided at Techny and had sexually abused minors many years earlier died in 2019,” according to Dinh. “The Archdiocese of Chicago was aware of their presence at Techny and was informed of their passing.”
“We are making progress reviewing files covering the past 75 years and are now finalizing the list of offenders,” Dinh says. “I hope that the Chicago Province list will probably be posted on the website within a few months.”
Archdiocese now asks orders to fill out detailed survey
The Redemptorists, who run St. Michael Church in Old Town, decided about two years ago to compile and release a list of clergy accused of sexual abuse. But “there were serious and, I think, reasonable disagreements over criteria” for doing so between the order’s provinces, according to the Rev. Stephen Rehrauer, leader of the order’s Denver Province, which includes Chicago.
Those disagreements were over issues such as when and how to reveal claims made against clerics who are dead and thus can’t defend themselves and also regarding how detailed any public disclosures should be so as not to cause undue new trauma for victims, Rehrauer says.
He says the group might end up modeling its list on what’s been done by the Jesuits, who run Loyola Academy in Wilmette, St. Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side and Cristo Rey Jesuit High School near Pilsen. The Midwest Jesuits made public a list in 2018 of credibly accused clergy that included the years the misconduct occurred and the priests’ assignments at the time. Its list also notes the status of the accused, including whether he’s still alive and part of the Jesuits.
In the past few years, credible allegations have been made against two Chicago-area Redemptorists, now long dead, who are accused of abusing children in the 1960s and 1970s. They’re among 33 credibly accused clerics, most now deceased, over the years in the order’s province that includes Chicago and spans much of the country.
Rehrauer says most names already have been made public through various diocesan lists.
He says an accusation against a living member of the order who had been in the Chicago area is still being investigated and that the member has been removed from public ministry.
Rehrauer says he wants to have his list done and made public by year’s end.
“I have to fill out a comprehensive summary,” Rehrauer says, on every member of his order in the Chicago area each year for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which he says asks about any allegations of misconduct that have been made at any time, among other probing questions.
“That’s new,” Rehrauer says.
As a result, he says, “They have a more complete awareness of who’s who in the archdiocese.”
Another order cleric says the archdiocese has “been even more rigorous in scrutinizing boundary violations with adults.”
Cupich has declined requests from the Sun-Times to release such information regarding priests found to have had an inappropriate relationship or interaction with another male or female adult.
Several members of religious orders in the Chicago area say the scrutiny by Cupich’s office has been so detailed — with some questions going beyond misconduct — that “we’ve pushed back,” according to one order priest.
Religious orders and dioceses are supposed to operate similarly when a misconduct allegation is made against one of their clerics involving a child — by reporting it to law enforcement, removing the man from public ministry while the church also investigates and offering “support” such as counseling to those accusing the priest.
The church asks that, once an abuse claim is made, the orders also inform the dioceses where the misconduct is said to have happened and where the priest lives.
While religious orders aren’t required by the Catholic church to create publicly available lists of substantiated sexual misconduct claims against their members, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men — which includes most of them in the United States — encourages them to do so and trains them on “best practices,” spokeswoman Susan Gibbs says.
Some gaps in what’s released by orders
The Viatorians, who run St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, have a list with two members who the group says have credible allegations of abuse. One of them, Brother John Dodd, was once a high-ranking official in the Las Vegas Diocese, which notes on its public list that his inclusion “is based upon complaints brought forward to the Viatorian Order in Illinois. Based upon a review of available records, there were no complaints against Br. Dodd of sexual abuse of a minor while working within the Nevada Dioceses.”
According to the Viatorians’ list, Dodd, now 80, faced a single “substantiated” allegation of abuse that occurred in or around 1985 and that he is now retired, “living in a structured environment on a safety plan.”
The Las Vegas Diocese list says Dodd was “removed from ministry” in 2019.
Neither list says what Dodd was accused of or where that happened, and his province won’t say.
A 2014 posting that remains on the Viatorians’ website marked Dodd’s retirement as the Las Vegas Diocese’s chief financial officer, saying: “When he arrived in Las Vegas, he had already served as a comptroller of three Catholic high schools and 10 elementary schools in Peoria. He then served as treasurer of the Viatorian Province of Chicago for the next 20 years, as well as serv[ing] as a provincial councilor prior to moving west. During his tenure in Las Vegas, Br. Dodd also served on the board of trustees of Bishop Gorman Catholic High School, and helped oversee the building of the school’s new campus in 2005.”
The leader of the province, the Rev. Dan Hall, says his order released the list “because we were asked to” within the past few years by Cupich.
“Religious orders are taking this very seriously,” Hall says. “We can’t change the past, but we can do what we can to safeguard the future.”
Beyond names, the Viatorian list includes birthdates, dates clerics entered the order, the “estimated timeframe of abuse,” whether it was a single accusation or more and the current status of the accused.
Unlike the Jesuits’ list, there’s no mention of where clerics served at the time of the alleged abuse. Still, it’s more detailed than the list maintained by the Capuchin Franciscans, which includes only the names of 29 credibly accused living and dead clerics for the province, which is based in Wisconsin and Michigan but includes the Chicago area.
That branch of the Franciscans — whose formation houses are in the Chicago area and which helps in at least one Chicago-area parish — are going to broaden the list so clerical assignments also are included, according to Amy Peterson, the province’s point person on responding to sexual misconduct accusations.
Peterson says the order released its first list in 2013 along with a detailed audit on abuse with the ranks that named names, putting it in the vanguard for transparency. That audit said there were “documented reports of sexual abuse by friars dating to 1932.” Many of the more recent accusations centered on a boarding school seminary for high school students in Wisconsin.
The Rev. Brian Paulson, leader of the Chicago-area Jesuits, says these lists can be “liberating” for survivors.
“All I can say to my brother fellow provincials is I can’t imagine having the trust from the people of God . . . without this level of transparency,” Paulson says.
According to the Redemptorists’ leader Rehrauer, no one should “be afraid to bring an accusation. We are always going to care more about them than anything else and making sure any sort of outcome is directed at helping them heal.”
Most U.S. dioceses now publicize lists of abusive local clergy — information that many of them had kept secret until one scandal after another unfolded in waves starting more than 30 years ago that, beyond the damage the victims suffered, also have resulted in dioceses collectively having paid hundreds of millions of dollars from legal costs, including lawsuits.
Other dioceses provide more information
Some dioceses — including Joliet and the Rockford Diocese, which includes McHenry and Kane counties — also include religious order clergy on their lists if those priests, brothers and deacons ever lived, worked or committed an act of abuse in their areas.
Rockford Bishop David Malloy said in a letter posted on his website that “to the extent the Diocese is aware of a substantiated allegation against a religious order priest or priest from another diocese who was assigned in the Diocese of Rockford or who at any time served within the geographical boundaries of this Diocese but was not assigned in this Diocese, the name of that priest is included in this list.”
There are six Rockford diocesan priests on the diocesan list, five diocesan clergy from other areas and nine order clergy members.
In the Joliet Diocese, which includes DuPage and Will counties, an official said, “If another diocese places the name of an order or extern [out-of-town] priest on its list of credibly accused clergy, and that order or extern priest also served in Joliet, we will add his name to our list.”
Of 44 clergy listed by the Joliet Diocese, two are from religious orders.
In the much larger Chicago archdiocese, just two other order priests are listed. Their names are included with those of 71 diocesan priests — most of them now dead — because they went through an archdiocesan investigation, according to the archdiocese. Why that occurred is unclear.
Discussing why it’s important to make public names of abusive clergy, Malloy also wrote: “Our continued prayer is that victims of these priests find some bit of peace in seeing this list and that all victims of sexual abuse find the courage to come forward and know that assistance is available to them.”
Leaders of religious orders who agreed to interviews say they have no credibly accused members involved in public ministry and that an outside company provides strict standards to help minimize risks to children and respond to any future allegations of abusive behavior.
Compiling a comprehensive list can be complicated by factors including that the allegations often are leveled decades after abuse occurred, in some cases after those accused have died.
Also, when it comes to religious orders, Gibbs says, “Many of them are small, and they don’t have deep resources,” and some “have combined over the years and have records in different locations.”
There are 225 or so religious orders in the United States with a combined total of more than 15,000 priests and brothers, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit research center affiliated with Georgetown University. There are nearly 25,000 diocesan priests.
Claims against religious orders rising
The numbers and cost of abuse claims have been rising for many religious orders. According to one study, “Of the 320 new allegations reported by religious institutes between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, one involved a child under the age of 18 in 2019. Nearly all of the other allegations were made by adults who are alleging abuse when they were minors.”
The year before, there were 187 “new credible allegations” against religious orders. In 2017, there were 63.
The same study found that, during the same 2018-2019 period, religious orders spent more than $41 million on abuse allegations, covering settlements, legal fees and counseling for victims, among other things. Five years earlier, that total was around $12.5 million.But not every religious order participated in the survey.
Derek Braslow, one of the lawyers representing the former St. Rita student suing the Augustinians, says religious orders “seem to have gotten a little pass” in terms of attention and expectations on the subject of child sex abuse. “They have a long way to go as far as transparency is concerned.”
McCarrick and the current crisis
The current crisis within the Catholic church in the United States regarding abusive priests stems largely from two things that happened in 2018.
One was that a Pennsylvania grand jury report cited decades of child rape by local priests and cover-ups by bishops.
The other: the allegations that came out that year of sexual abuse and misconduct and a cover-up involving former Washington, D.C., Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was accused of molesting minors and having sex with young adult seminarians.
Pope Francis was accused of knowing about at least some of McCarrick’s misconduct but allowing him to continue to minister. A recent church-commissioned report largely absolved Pope Francis but laid significant blame over the church’s conduct regarding McCarrick on Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 and has been declared a saint.
McCarrick ended up being stripped of his title and laicized as a priest, and he moved to a friary in Kansas run by a Franciscan religious order.
Braslow, who is also representing one of the men accusing McCarrick of sexually abusing him when he was a teenager, said the claim that religious orders are “independent” of dioceses rings hollow.
Cupich, for instance, has taken a role in deciding whether an order cleric accused of abuse should remain in the Chicago area or be moved elsewhere while under investigation, according to a church official.
In 2000, an accused diocesan priest in Chicago was temporarily moved into the Augustinian friary on the South Side, church records show.