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Report On Clergy Sex Abuse Released; 55 Incidents Told

Feb 4, 2003 | Chicago Catholic New World A report summarizing reports of clerical sexual abuse of minors over the past 10 years and how the Archdiocese of Chicago has responded showed that there were 55 credible allegations—but none of the incidents happened since 1991.

That was one of the key findings of a report archdiocesan Chancellor Jimmy Lago presented to Cardinal George and shared with reporters Jan. 16.

The allegations involved 36 archdiocesan priests, all of whom have retired or resigned, been withdrawn from ministry or died.

Over the 10-year period, the archdiocese has spent $16.8 million on costs associated with clerical sexual abuse. The amount includes settlements, assistance to victims, treatment of priests and legal costs. The total also includes $1.3 million spent to defend a priest and school principal who were found to be innocent, Lago said.

The report has been in the works since last spring as the archdiocese began confronting the first new allegations of priestly misconduct. A copy of the main portion of the report may be found on Pages 14-15 of this issue of The Catholic New World. The complete report is available on-line at the archdiocese’s Web site: www.archdiocese-chgo.org

In the report, Lago wrote, “While the officials of the Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledge that even one incident of clerical sexual abuse is one too many, this report demonstrates that the efforts of the archdiocese during the past 10 years to address this issue have resulted in three significant realities. First, no priest with a substantiated allegation of clerical sexual misconduct with minors is engaged in any form of ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Second, officials of the archdiocese have shared files on all allegations with appropriate public authorities and will continue to do so. Third, the Archdiocese of Chicago continues to do everything it can to ensure the safety of children in its parishes and schools.”

Lago and Cardinal George said the archdiocese had a “head start” on dealing with priestly sexual abuse because of the work done by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and the special commission he formed to deal with the issue in the early 1990s. The report Bernardin commissioned of sexual abuse up until that time included allegations against 34 archdiocesan priests—some nine or 10 of whom have had allegations lodged against them in the past 10 years and are also included in the new report.

At the time Cardinal Bernardin released his report, Lago said, he was quoted as saying, “While I cannot change the past, I can do something about the future.”

“His promise for the future is our current record. … To the extent we have made progress, that promise remains alive,” Lago said. “In the areas in which we have stumbled, I can only say we look again to the future, under the leadership of Cardinal George, and recommit ourselves to protecting children and youth.”

Over the past several months, victims and leaders of victims have complained that the archdiocese’s review board has taken too long to investigate claims.

Cardinal George acknowledged that there have been delays, because, he said, the board is a group of volunteers that was not set up to handle the flood of allegations that began pouring in last spring.

“A system that was not set up to deal with that volume was considerably slowed down,” the cardinal said, adding that a decline in new allegations means the board has begun to work through its backlog.

In the report’s case study, a historical breakdown showed that four of the cases reported in the last 10 years involve incidents that happened before 1961. Twelve of the incidents happened from 1961 to 1970, 29 from 1971 to 1980 and 10 from 1981 to 1990.

Cardinal George cautioned that this doesn’t mean there have been no incidents since then, only that they have not been reported.

“The victims’ groups say it takes a longer time” for victims to feel comfortable coming forward,” the cardinal said. “To say that you’ve eliminated sin is a big, big claim, and I don’t want to make that claim.”

However, he believes the incidence of clerical sexual abuse might have declined because of seminary reforms that took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The financial section shows that from fiscal 1993 through fiscal 2002, which ended July 1, the archdiocese spent $7.9 million in assistance to victims and settlements, $4.6 million for the treatment, monitoring and transition of priests and $4.3 million in legal expenses. More money was paid out in the earlier years than the later years, although costs rose again in 2002.

Most of the money, $15 million—came from a fund set up for the purpose using the proceeds from the sale of undeveloped property, a fund that ran dry in 1999. The archdiocese is now trying to replenish it by selling more property. In the meantime the archdiocese recovered about $2.8 million from insurance policies, and used a small amount from its general revenue fund—including money from leases, invetsments, sale of assets and other sources—to meet immediate expenses.

Any money from the general fund will be reimbursed, according to the report.

“No donation, given either to a parish or to the Archdiocese of Chicago, will be used to meet the direct costs of the sexual abuse,” the report says.

In addition to the case summary and financial report, the document includes:

historical context and perspective

a revised archdiocesan policy that complies with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and the norms approved by the U.S. bishops

a section explaining that Cardinal George has released all victims from any confidentiality agreements that were part of their settlements

a section detailing the requirements that allegations be reported to state authorities

information about the canonical process accused priests will face. So far, roughly half the 19 priests withdrawn against their will have said they intend to contest the decisions

and a short summary of the public hearings on clerical sexual abuse conducted by the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago last May.

The report is specific to Chicago archdiocesan clergy and does not include information about allegations of abuse by priests from other dioceses or religious orders, even if it took place in Chicago, nor does it include the names of the priests involved, Lago said.

There have been at least two incidents of sexual abuse involving non-diocesan clergy in the past 10 years, Lago said. In one, police are seeking Father Sleeva R. Policetti, a priest of the Diocese of Pune, India, over allegations that he had an inappropriate relationship with a teen-age girl at St. Tarcissus Parish, where he served for six years. He is believed to have fled back to India.

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