Chicago Archdiocese releases documents of priest abuse complaints

Thousands of pages of secret church documents released Tuesday as part of a court settlement provide an unprecedented look at how the 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 abuse allegations. The paper trail, going back decades, also portrays painfully slow progress toward reform, accountability and openness.

Most of the 30 clergymen tied to the documents were not prosecuted. They were shielded by Roman Catholic 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.

Some of the incidents surfaced during George’s tenure. In a 2008 deposition as part of a civil lawsuit, George admitted to mishandling three cases under his watch: allegations against the Rev. Joseph Bennett, the cardinal’s attempts to get an early release from prison for convicted child molester Norbert Maday, and the failure to quickly remove convicted child molester Daniel McCormack.

McCormack was taken into custody in August 2005 after a 10-year-old boy claimed the priest fondled him. Police said the boy's story was credible but released McCormack after getting a call from an official of the archdiocese. Documents from the McCormack case have been sealed by a judge for pending litigation and aren’t included in Tuesday’s public release of more than 6,000 pages of church files.

But the cases of Maday and Bennett do appear in the trove of documents, illustrating how George struggled in responding to the sex abuse allegations.

Nearly 500 internal archdiocese files chronicle how George and those under his leadership mishandled the case of Bennett, a priest accused of molesting two sisters between 1967 and 1973 at St. John de la Salle in Chicago. According to the documents, at least a dozen more allegations have surfaced against Bennett since he was removed from ministry.

The younger of the two sisters came forward first, in late 2003.

“The Catholic Church has been less than truthful,” said older sister Susan Albrecht, now 56, of Midlothian, Ill. “They have downright lied in some instances. … We had relatives that didn’t even believe us.”

An archdiocesan review board, a panel of lay people tapped to determine the credibility of allegations, investigated for nearly two years, after which George kept Bennett under the supervision of a monitor, the Rev. Leonard Dubi, according to the files. Dubi had been monitoring Bennett because of an earlier allegation that was not substantiated.

But the cardinal’s own hand-picked review board warned him in 2003 and 2005 that Dubi might not be the best monitor for Bennett because the two were friends. In fact, the two clergymen had vacationed together in Cancun, Mexico, earlier that year, according to a Feb. 9, 2003, vacation notice.

Still, George allowed Dubi to serve as Bennett’s monitor. George initially agreed with his board’s October 2005 recommendation that Bennett be “immediately removed.” But documents reveal the cardinal had second thoughts.

“I realize this creates a rather awkward situation, but I believe I need to reflect on this matter further,” George wrote in a Nov. 7, 2005 letter. Bennett was removed 11 days after McCormack’s arrest.

Bennett, now 73, has never been charged with a crime. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in various church documents. Bennett never returned to active ministry after 2006 and was never defrocked.

Bennett, who resigned in summer 2012, could not be reached for comment.

The McCormack and Bennett cases did spark some archdiocese reforms, much like the wave of reforms instituted by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1991 when dozens of accused priests were removed from ministry.

Documents from the George and Bernardin eras strike a remarkably different tone from the church’s policies and procedures under the late Cardinal John Cody.

In one letter, Cody assured the Rev. Raymond Skriba that he shouldn’t worry about allegations of sexual misconduct from a girl at St. Walter Catholic Church.

“I feel that this whole matter should be forgotten by you as it has been forgotten by me,” Cody wrote to Skriba in a July 1970 letter. “No good can come of trying to prove or disprove the allegations, and I think that you will understand this.”

Skriba was reassigned to another parish and eventually landed at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Round Lake, where one woman said she was 15 when Skriba molested her. According to the archdiocese, Skriba died  this month.

The documents released Tuesday account for 30 out of more than 65 priests in the Chicago archdiocese with substantiated child abuse allegations against them.

Of the 30 accused priests, 14 have died, all but two are no longer priests and none is in active ministry. An archdiocesan lawyer said last week that 95% of the incidents detailed in the documents occurred before 1988 and 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.


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Brachear Pashman, Gutowski and Lighty are Chicago Tribune reporters.