CHICAGO (AP) — The Archdiocese of Chicago on Thursday released thousands of internal documents showing how it hid the sexual abuse of children by 36 priests, adding to similar disclosures made earlier this year and fulfilling a pledge by an ailing Cardinal Francis George to release the files before he retires later this month.
"We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue," George said in a statement released overnight. "Child abuse is a crime and a sin."
The archdiocese in January released 6,000 documents on 30 abusive priests as part of a legal settlement with victims, and on Thursday posted online 15,000 more records related to 36 others and involving abuse allegations dating to the early 1950s. The files only cover cases in which the archdiocese substantiated the abuse, and don't include those against priests who died before their accusers came forward or those who served in religious orders.
But they show how the archdiocese routinely hid the histories of abusive priests by moving them between parishes, did not swiftly remove the men from ministry and in some cases helped them remain priests long after allegations against them were deemed credible.
Victim advocates said the newest disclosures are welcome but don't go far enough, noting that many more priests have been accused of sexual misconduct, and files in one of the most recent and egregious cases — that of former priest Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children — weren't included.
Archdiocese officials said McCormack's files were not released because of pending civil litigation, but Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago office of the Survivor's Network of those Abused by Priests, said those records were sealed by a judge at the church's request.
The archdiocese is "looking for ways to split hairs and minimize and not show the full extent" of the abuse, Blaine said. "Nobody in the archdiocese has more authority than Cardinal George does now."
McCormack's files could shed light on how George, who has been the Catholic Church's spiritual leader in Chicago since 1997, handled suspected abusers even after officials said they had developed procedures to deal swiftly with abusive priests. His case prompted an internal investigation of how the archdiocese responds to abuse claims and an apology from George.
Jeff Anderson, a victims' attorney who was involved in the earlier document release, said the exclusions raise questions about whether church officials are trying to hide some abuse.
"This is suspicious, incomplete and not transparent. It seems to be an attempt by George to preserve a legacy," Anderson said.
John O'Malley, special counsel to the archbishop for misconduct issues, said George had made a commitment to release the remaining documents and didn't want incoming archbishop, Blase Cupich, to have to deal with the issue when he assumes leadership of the nation's third largest archdiocese. Most allegations involving priests for whom files were released happened under late Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin.
"Cardinal George wanted it finished on his watch," said O'Malley, who noted that George in 2002 began removing priests against whom an abuse allegation had been substantiated.
But the files released Thursday show a familiar pattern of behavior from archdiocese officials when dealing with earlier abuse allegations.
In one case, for example, a priest removed from active ministry in 1994 after admitting to sexually molesting two boys 19 years earlier was reinstated the next year under strict guidelines put in place by Bernardin, who said the priest, John Calicott, posed "no significant risk to children" if he continued therapy.
George removed Calicott from active ministry in 2002, but he defied George's order to stay away from his old parish and even was lecturing children about sex education. Calicott was laicized in 2009.
Church officials know they must remain vigilant, and want to acknowledge and learn from the past, including by training adults to report abuse and children to protect themselves, said Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.
"We have a history of abuse in this archdiocese of Chicago," Slattery said. "It's an ongoing challenge that is something we're committed to doing."