On Thursday November 6, Cardinal Francis George made one final attempt to clear his conscience before he retires later this month. He ordered The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to release the internal files of 36 priests who church officials found had sexually abused children.
The trove of documents numbers 15,000 pages and follows the release in January of the files on 30 former priests accused of abusing minors. Combined, these files represent the most complete picture yet of how the archdiocese handled reports of sexual abuse of minors by 66 of its priests dating back to 1952.
The documents are deeply disturbing and show how pedophile priests in Chicago were allowed to prey on children with impunity. Illustrated throughout the released material is the well-documented and organized cover-up to shield predatory priests from conviction. The first priority of the Archdiocese, and this includes Cardinal George, was to safeguard the church from lawsuits by any means possible. Denial, obfuscation, lies, and defamation of the victims were standard operating procedure. However, the most disturbing revelation in these documents was that rather than removing abusive priests, the archdiocese would transfer them to other churches when any allegations of abuse were raised. The church knowingly allowed sexual predators to continue operating in their midst. At every turn the choice was made to protect the abusers, and never the victims.
For the majority of these incidents the statute of limitations has run out and the priests who are still alive are protected from criminal prosecution. However the church in Chicago has already paid out almost $130 million to settle civil claims and there are undoubtedly more to come.
Throughout my career I have fought to bring justice and closure to the victims of sexual abuse by pedophile priests. I have lobbied incessantly for transparency from the church and urged the release of documents identifying predatory priests and the bishops and cardinals who sheltered them. The release of these files is a positive step, but it covers only one archdiocese, in one city, in a church that spans the globe. Worldwide the Catholic Church has been plagued by sexual abuse and if it is ever to end the Vatican needs to take drastic steps that mirror these in Chicago. Disclosure is the first step in preventing these sexual predators from continuing to harm children, and the time for full disclosure has come.