By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Archdiocese had a practice of moving priests accused of sexual abuse to new parishes, where they committed more abuse against children, according to documents released on Tuesday by lawyers representing the victims.
The latest in a series of such abuse disclosures by Midwest church officials, the documents provided to lawyers by the nation's third-largest Archdiocese concern 30 former priests accused of abusing minors during the last half century.
"These were not mistakes," said attorney Marc Pearlman, who represents the victims of child sexual abuse by clergy. "These were decisions made at the very highest level."
Pearlman said the files, which amounted to thousands of pages of documents, showed a pattern of repeated abuse with the Archdiocese working to keep the allegations secret and transfers of abusers to new parishes.
Fourteen of the men are deceased - the rest are out of ministry. Lawyers also released documents on Tuesday regarding two additional priests - one of them, Daniel McCormack, who had been in ministry in Chicago until 2006.
The document release was part of a mediation agreement between the Archdiocese and lawyers. Lawyers said they also want the Archdiocese to release documents on 35 other priests.
Cardinal Francis George, who has led the Archdiocese since 1997, apologized earlier in January to those harmed by abuse, and said the publication of the records would raise transparency to a new level.
"It will be helpful, we pray, for some, but painful for many," George wrote in a letter to Chicago-area Catholics.
The Archdiocese said 95 percent of the cases occurred prior to 1988.
But lawyers for victims criticized George's response to abuse allegations and the official actions taken by previous Chicago cardinals, John Cody and Joseph Bernardin.
In 2005, a deposition showed, George failed to suspend then-priest Daniel McCormack from ministry, despite his arrest for abuse and a recommendation from an independent review board, the lawyers said.
McCormack was removed from ministry in 2006, after more abusive acts. He pleaded guilty to criminal sexual abuse in 2007 and served prison time.
Speaking at a news conference in Chicago after the document release, Jim Laarveld, who said his son was abused by former priest Vincent McCaffrey, said on Tuesday that despite church promises that children are better protected now than they once were, parents should trust nobody.
"What happened to my son and all of these people was a crime and they did nothing about it," Laarveld said. He said he believes in God, but is no longer a practicing Catholic and does not go to church.
McCaffrey admitted to abusing children hundreds of times, according to a criminal court deposition. He is serving a prison sentence for child pornography, according to Pearlman.
Nick Ingala, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, a progressive Catholic group formed in response to the sex abuse scandal, said the disclosures would help survivors and the church heal.
"Until the survivors are given the satisfaction of knowing that someone is taking responsibility for the terrible things that were done to them, many of them can't recover and can't live their lives," he said.
Similar disclosures regarding clergy abuse have been made by church leaders in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the past year.
When asked why the disclosures were coming out so close together, Nicholas Cafardi, dean emeritus at the Duquesne University School of Law and an expert on the abuse scandal, said it may be a "Pope Francis effect."
"He said we need to reach out to the victims of child sexual abuse," Cafardi said. "One way to protect the children is to put the names of known child sexual abusers out there."
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski; editing by David Bailey, Stephen Powell and Matthew Lewis)