Settlement of sex abuse case requires release of archdiocese files

For more than a quarter of a century, Angel Santiago has suffered from a recurring nightmare.

“Father [Joseph] Fitzharris chasing me in my dreams,” the 44-year-old Bensenville man said.

On Monday, Santiago joined his attorneys to announce that a settlement has been reached with the Archdiocese of Chicago for sexual abuse Santiago suffered as a boy at the hands of his family’s priest, Fitzharris.

Attorneys with the case declined to specify the monetary amount of the settlement. The archdiocese confirmed the settlement.

“The settlements announced [Monday] confirm that this process works, and that attorneys need not put their clients through the ordeal of litigation,” the archdiocese said in a statement.

Fitzharris was reduced to lay status in 2009. He was removed from ministry in 1994, according to the archdiocese.

As part of Santiago’s settlement, the archdiocese will be required to release information about 35 priests accused of sexual misconduct and about the official handling of the case, said Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota-based lawyer who represents victims of clergy sex abuse. Eleven others who have settled with the archdiocese are stipulating the same thing.

Those files contain, among other information, any complaints and information about suspected abuse, Anderson said.

“It would reveal who has handled it, how it has been handled or mishandled … who knew, what they knew and what they did or didn’t do about it,” he said.

It would likely take several months of legal wrangling for the information to be made public.

“It is expected that at some point in the future, there will be a release of files as part of the ongoing mediation in regards to these cases,” said Colleen Dolan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

As for Santiago, he first told his family in 2008 that he had been sexually abused as a 12-year-old, in the early 1980s.

The devout family attended St. Francis Xavier’s Parish in Chicago’s Avondale community, where Santiago was an altar boy and his father, also named Angel Santiago, was a janitor. His father died and never learned of the abuse. The parish is now called Resurrection Parish.

“I feel alive again,” Santiago said of telling his story. “I have less nightmares.”