Archdiocese Settles Sexual 16 Abuse Cases, Releases Deposition

By Michelle Martin
Catholic New World
August 17, 2008

The Archdiocese of Chicago announced Aug. 12 that it had reached settlements totaling $12.7 million with 16 people who said they were sexually abused by 11 different priests.

The archdiocese and the attorneys for the plaintiffs also released the transcript of Cardinal George’s Jan. 30 deposition in the cases of several victims.

The transcript, which runs to 307 pages, includes questions about several cases.

“I’m releasing this deposition voluntarily for the sake of the record and I hope to help the healing of everyone concerned in this matter,” the cardinal said at a 10 a.m. press conference to announce the settlements. The deposition is available at

The abuse alleged in most of the cases happened between 1962 and 1994; two of the cases relate to Daniel McCormack, who pled guilty in 2007 to having abused five children between 2003-2005. Two other victims already settled.

The cardinal, archdiocesan chancellor Jimmy Lago and victims’ attorney Jeffrey Anderson all said the settlements — including the release of the cardinal’s deposition and other documents — are intended to bring more transparency to the way claims of sexual abuse by priests are handled.

“In secret, sexual abuse flourishes,” said Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn.-based attorney who has been representing victims of clerical sexual abuse for 25 years. “It’s this kind of transparency that leads to the protection of children.”

Anderson, who spoke at an 11:30 a.m. press conference in the offices of Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who also represents victims, was flanked by two of the victims who are part of the settlements. Bob Brancato told reporters he was raped over the course of two years by Donald Ryniecki, then principal of St. Joseph the Worker School in Wheeling, and then-Father James Steel, the pastor.

“Now I am able to look in the mirror and realize that I have helped protect kids who have yet to be born, kids who are born and other victims who are gathering the strength to report their abuse,” said Brancato.

Therese Albrecht told of reporting to the archdiocese in 2004 that she had been raped by Father Joseph Bennet when she was a child at St. John de la Salle Parish on Chicago’s far South Side, then waiting two more years to see Bennett, then assigned to Holy Ghost Parish in South Holland, removed from ministry.

“They delayed and delayed and delayed and they left him in that church,” Albrecht said. “The priests and the leadership of the church are supposed to be a reflection of Jesus, who laid down his life for his sheep. All I asked them to do was believe me.”

According to Cardinal George’s deposition, Bennett was not removed from ministry as soon as he could have been because he did not have a canon lawyer to represent him during the investigation.

Since then, procedures have changed, and priests who are accused of sexual abuse are asked to step aside from their ministry while an investigation proceeds.

Albrecht, who carries “deep anger and profound sadness,” said she has not yet met with Cardinal George, but she wants to.

Cardinal George has agreed to meet with the victims involved in the settlement, as he has with other victims in the past. At the press conference, he issued a general apology.

“I want to take this occasion to apologize again for the sexual abuse of minors committed by some priests,” the cardinal said. “I have met and apologized to victims and their families many times over the past years. I hope I will have the chance to do so with these victims. One cannot speak with a victim of sexual abuse and not feel profoundly moved because it’s such a grave personal tragedy. Nor can one not respect the way each victim fights to overcome the consequences of sexual abuse. The archdiocese is committed to joining in the fight to overcome these consequences and to join victims in their efforts to see that no child will suffer what the victims have endured. The mediated settlements today are an effort to be part of that help.”

Cardinal George also took responsibility once again for not removing McCormack from his post at St. Agatha Parish in 2005, after he was held for questioning and before he was arrested again in January 2006.

In his deposition, he told Anderson that he believed the police would not have released McCormack after questioning him in August 2005 if they thought the allegations were true. However, other documents showed that police did believe the allegations were credible.

Anderson, who has often criticized the archdiocese, said the mediation process worked for these victims because of the hard work of all the parties. He praised the courage of the victims who came forward and the commitment of the attorneys to find their way around thorny legal issues. He began to believe mediation could work, he said, after a short conversation with Cardinal George following the cardinal’s deposition.

He told the cardinal he would rather work with the archdiocese than against it, he said.

“He said, ‘I want to, too. And I believe you care,’” Anderson said. That made Anderson believe the cardinal cared, he said.

The mediation was done with the help of mediator Thomas Gibbons, an attorney and dean of Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies, and retired judge Stuart Nudelman, a special arbitrator.

The team is continuing mediation on several other cases.

Lago said the money for the settlements, which will be made available to victims in the coming weeks, will not come from parishioners’ donations. A portion will be funded by insurance, while proceeds from the sale or lease of undeveloped property will pay for the rest.

Priests involved in settlements

Eleven priests were involved in the settlement: Robert C. Becker, deceased in 1989; Joseph R. Bennett, removed from ministry in 2006; Robert Craig, resigned in 1993; James C. Hagan, resigned in 1997; Thomas F. Kelly, deceased in 1990; Norbert Maday, removed from ministry in 1993 and in prison; Robert E. Mayer, resigned in 1994; Daniel J. McCormack, removed from ministry in 2006 and in prison; Joseph Owens, resigned in 1970; Kenneth C. Ruge, deceased in 2002; and James Steel, resigned in 1992.


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