Some Catholics Wary After Cardinal Announces Release of Sex-abuse Files

Sun Times: Churchgoers emerged from Mass at Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday wary of an impending release—announced by church leaders here—of documents detailing the sexual abuse of children at the hands of priests, but optimistic that the Catholic church could finally move beyond the past.

Cardinal Francis George, the head of Chicago’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, penned a letter distributed Sunday at Masses across the city and suburbs announcing the release of the documents. “The church struggles with the past but it’s a way of providing some healing people need,” said Andy Luther, 33, of Villa Park. “Either way, it’s a painful experience bringing things to the light.”

The church files on sex-abuse cases, sought for nearly seven years by plaintiffs’ attorneys, will be handed over Wednesday under the terms of court settlements, according to the cardinal’s letter.

The documents detailing sexual abuse by priests, along with information about church officials who may have covered up the abuse, will be turned over Wednesday to attorneys suing the Archdiocese of Chicago. But those files will not become public for at least another week in order to remove victims’ information, according to Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney involved in a lawsuit filed by the abused.

“Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes raises transparency to a new level,” George wrote in his letter. “It will be helpful, we pray, for some, but painful for many.”

Mike Kiely, 32, said the priest saying a Sunday afternoon Mass at the cathedral told churchgoers to read the letter, but the priest said little else about it.

“I’m all for it no matter how nasty or ugly it is,” said Kiely, who lives in Ukrainian Village.

Kiely said the abuse of children by priests was a horror and hoped the release will be a healing moment. The issue was previously “swept under the rug,” which Kiely said ultimately drives people away from the faith.

“It seems like they are talking publicly about the actions that occurred by providing a formalized statement as well as asking for forgiveness from parishioners,” said Jeff Beck, 33, of Uptown. “I think that is a good thing.”

Meanwhile, members of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said George’s letter was largely self-serving at the expense of his predecessor, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. On Sunday, the group protested outside the cathedral, handing out fliers that urged Catholics to “ignore Cardinal George’s spin.”

George’s letter also addresses the handling of ex-priest Daniel McCormack, who was convicted of abuse allegations that occurred on George’s watch. In his letter to the faithful, George points to Bernardin’s role in promoting the now-defrocked priest, noting that Bernardin ordained McCormack and later elevated him to a “position of trust.”

McCormack was sentenced to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was a parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church on Chicago’s West Side. In court filings, several abuse victims have blamed George for ignoring allegations lodged against McCormack over the years.

“This letter is a way for him to escape his own personal responsibility,” said Kate Bochte, a member of SNAP. “He’s trying to wash his hands of any accountability and he’s blaming Bernardin for ordaining” McCormack.

In a statement, archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan took issue with SNAP’s criticism of the letter.

“Neither Cardinal George nor any of his predecessors, particularly Cardinal Bernardin, would knowingly ordain a pedophile,” Dolan wrote in an emailed statement. “The Cardinal has repeatedly and publicly accepted responsibility for the McCormack tragedy. In this letter today, he again apologizes for the crime and sin of child sexual abuse within the Church.”

Contributing: Art Golab
Twitter: @BrianSlodysko