CHICAGO — Thousands of pages of secret church documents released Tuesday as part of a court settlement provide an unprecedented look at how the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago for years failed to protect children from abusive priests.
The documents provide new details and insights into how the nation’s third-largest archdiocese quietly shuttled accused priests from parish to parish and failed to notify police of child sexual abuse allegations. The paper trail, going back decades, also portrays painfully slow progress toward reform, accountability and openness.
Most of the 30 clergymen related to the documents were not prosecuted. They were shielded by church officials who thought the men could be cured with counseling or bishops blinded by a belief in second chances and forgiveness.
“That’s in the past, we’re hoping,” Cardinal Francis George said in an interview Sunday.
At a news conference Tuesday, abuse victim Angel Santiago, 48, of Wood Dale, Ill., said he carried the burden of his mistreatment.
“We are an army,” Santiago said of abuse victims. “As survivors we will get stronger.”
A lawyer for victims said at the news conference that the documents showed the archdiocese’s actions were not mistakes but something more sinister.
“The files speak for themselves,” lawyer Jeffrey Anderson said. “What the documents demonstrate to us is that all the [Chicago] cardinals, including George, were complicit.”
One of the priests included in the documents was the Rev. William Cloutier. When the archdiocese approached him in 1979 with allegations that he had sexually assaulted boys, Cloutier responded, “Oh, my God, my priesthood is finished.”
It was not, however. Cloutier resigned from the priesthood in 1993 after allegations surfaced that, in the late 1970s, he had molested two 13-year-old boys, then pulled out a handgun and threatened to kill them if they told anyone.
The documents account for 30 out of more than 65 priests in the archdiocese with substantiated child abuse allegations against them. Of the 30, 14 have died, all but two are no longer priests and none is in active ministry.
A lawyer for the archdiocese said last week that 95% of the incidents detailed in the documents occurred before 1988 and that none occurred after 1996.
The archdiocese has paid more than $100 million to victims in the last 25 years, an expense covered by land sales and a recent bond issue.