CHICAGO — The Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday it will to pay more than $12.6 million to settle lawsuits by 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests — bringing to $65 million the total of such settlements paid by the archdiocese over three decades.
“My hope is that these settlements will help the survivors and their families begin to heal and move forward,” Cardinal Francis George said in a statement. “I apologize again today to the survivors and their families and to the whole Catholic community. We must continue to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of the children in our care.”
Fourteen cases settled Tuesday involve sexual abuse by 10 different priests. Two involve an 11th priest, the Rev. Daniel J. McCormack, who pleaded guilty last year to abusing five children and is serving a five-year prison sentence.
One of the victims, Therese Albrecht, said she was around 8 years old when she was repeatedly raped and sodomized by Father Joseph R. Bennett, priest at St. John De La Salle on Chicago’s South Side. She said she did not report the abuse until she was an adult, and then felt the archdiocese did not believe her.
Bennett was removed from the ministry in 2006, about two years after Albrecht came forward.
“Today is not a happy, joyous day for me,” Albrecht said Tuesday, adding that she has been in therapy and at one point was suicidal. “I’m very grateful I survived this. I didn’t think I would.”
The settlements were reached through a mediation process in which the George gave a deposition that he said was eight hours long. Chancellor Jimmy Lago said the archdiocese is releasing the deposition, the first time it has done so, in an attempt at openness.
Other information and files also will be made public, under terms of the mediation, the archdiocese said.
After McCormack pleaded guilty, critics said his plea deal spared the archdiocese embarrassing testimony about mismanagement and foot-dragging in the case, and accused the church of being secretive.
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented some of the victims in Tuesday’s settlement, praised the mediation process and said in a statement that the cardinal was “actively involved in this process.”
“He has demonstrated his commitment to healing these survivors,” Anderson said.
Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement criticizing the church but praising the victims for insisting “that secret church documents about these pedophile priests will be made public.”
“These courageous victims are the ones who deserve praise today,” she said.
“No single check magically erases years of cover up and insensitivity and recklessness and deceit of public relations posturing by church officials,” Blaine said. “Nor does a check magically restore the shattered trust, stolen childhoods and devastated psyches of dozens of victims of predatory priests and complicit bishops.”
Lago said the Chicago archdiocese has paid $65 million to settle approximately 250 claims during the past 30 years. Mediation continues in about a couple dozen more cases, he said.
The archdiocese now has settled four of five lawsuits stemming from abuse by McCormack.
George previously acknowledged he failed to act soon enough in McCormack’s case.
George said Tuesday that the entire Catholic church has been “certainly wounded” by sex abuse scandals.
“How greatly, I don’t know,” he said.
By the Associated Press