Documents Reveal Decades Of Child Abuse Among Some Chicago Priests

Papers documenting allegation of sexual abuse by priests in the Chicago Archdiocese were released to the public today by victims' attorneys. The documents cover only 30 of at least 65 priests for whom the Chicago church says it has substantiated claims of child abuse. The papers, put online, were made available through settlements between Church and victims' lawyers. Church officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988, none after 1996, and that all were ultimately reported to authorities.

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We have new revelations today detailing decades of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Chicago. Thousands of pages of documents, released by victims' attorneys, show how the church hierarchy mishandled accusations of abuse.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The documents tell one heartbreaking story after another - 6,000 pages detailing not just how children and adult victims were abused by trusted priests, but also how church officials often bungled their responses, failing to turn sexual predators over to criminal authorities and often shuttling the offending priests from parish to parish, where they abused again.

JEFF ANDERSON: The documents tell a tale that has been long-standing.

SCHAPER: Jeff Anderson is an attorney for many of the victims of the 30 abusive priests who were included in the document released today.

ANDERSON: As we reviewed and summarized these, we continued to ask what a tangled web has been woven here because their first practice was to deceive.

SCHAPER: That deception, says Anderson, came from the cardinal on down. And he says not only were the victims and their families deceived, but so too were parishioners where offending priests were transferred, as well as the police and the public at large. In one case in 1979, a priest raped a 13-year old boy and later warned him at gunpoint not to tell anyone. The documents show the boy's parents were assured that the priest would get treatment and would be kept away from minors, but he wasn't. Within a year, that priest was returned to ministry in another parish where he abused again.

In another case, the late Cardinal John Cody tells a priest accused of sexually abusing a girl that the allegations, quote, "should just be forgotten," adding that no good can come of trying to prove or disprove it. That priest later abused again. Attorney Marc Pearlman.

MARC PEARLMAN: The documents will speak for themselves and those documents will show that leadership did engage in a systemic cover-up of these matters.

SCHAPER: Officials with the Chicago Archdiocese insist there was no intentional effort to cover-up allegations. They say standard psychiatric practices at the time many of these incidents, most of which occurred before 1988, called for offenders to receive counseling, treatment and rehabilitation. The archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made mistakes. But officials insist they didn't know any better. But sexual abuse survivor Joe Iacono isn't buying that argument in his case.

JOE IACONO: There was a massive cover-up.

SCHAPER: Iacono fought back tears as he told reporters his story.

IACONO: The priest that abused me moved seven times and abused others.

SCHAPER: The documents released in Chicago today are similar to those released in other diocese, says Dennis Cody of the National Catholic Reporter. And he says they underscore how the highest levels of the church haven't been held responsible.

DENNIS CODY: You know, there hasn't been any real accounting at the level of the hierarchy - the archdiocese, the bishops and their staff. Nobody at that level has ever been reprimanded or brought to account in a court of law or even a church court of law.

SCHAPER: Abuse survivors say as painful as it is, they hope the disclosure of these documents, which they've been fighting eight years for, will help the push for accountability and lead to changes in the Catholic Church hierarchy. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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