John Bacon, USA TODAY
A paper trail of sexual misconduct involving 30 priests and the Archdiocese of Chicago's slow and clumsy handling of their cases is revealed in more than 6,000 pages of documents released online Tuesday.
Most of the misconduct took place decades ago -- and most of the priests involved were never criminally prosecuted. Victims' lawyers, who released the documents, had pressed for public access to the records to show that the archdiocese concealed abuse for decades, including moving priests to new parishes where they molested again.
Meeting schedules, accusatory letters from parishoners and discussions of their claims are included. The documents describe how the late Cardinals John Cody and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin often approved the reassignments. But victims' lawyers say some of the allegations came to light under the current archbishop, Cardinal Francis George.
"Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the Archdiocese is committed," George said in a letter last week announcing the release.
The disclosures were similar to disclosures made in other dioceses in recent years that showed how the Roman Catholic Church shielded priests and failed for many years to report child sex abuse to authorities.
"Telling the truth does not create an excuse for failure," George said. "But it makes a difference, as we go forward, to know in what the failure consists, to know that the truth has been told and that the Church is committed to accountability and transparency."
Debra Brian, a 24-year-old Catholic from Chicago, had not yet seen or heard what was included in the documents, but said Sunday that the church is doing the right thing.
"Hopefully it will help people come forward," said Brian.
The archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle sexual abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school.
The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack.
Files on McCormack were released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases, said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented about 200 victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area. Pearlman said he and St. Paul, Minn., attorney Jeff Anderson will re-release the McCormack documents that they have.
Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations of abuse.
Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it's important for all Chicago-area Catholics to read the documents.
"This is about a part of their story as Chicago Catholics that ... has been systematically hidden," Isely said.