Chicago archdiocese hid decades of child sex abuse

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FILE – In this March 14, 2013, file photo, Chicago Cardinal Francis George speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome, Italy. Internal documents showing how officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago handled allegations of child sexual abuse by priests are about to become public when victims’ attorneys post the documents to a website Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, 2014, after receiving them from the archdiocese last week as part of legal settlements. The documents are for 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations. George says the disclosures are an attempt at transparency and to help victims heal. He’s also apologized to victims and area Catholics for the abuse. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

FILE – In this March 14, 2013, file photo, Chicago Cardinal Francis George speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Rome, Italy. Internal documents showing how officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago handled allegations of child sexual abuse by priests are about to become public when victims’ attorneys post the documents to a website Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, 2014, after receiving them from the archdiocese last week as part of legal settlements. The documents are for 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations. George says the disclosures are an attempt at transparency and to help victims heal. He’s also apologized to victims and area Catholics for the abuse. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, File)

FILE – This April 17, 2002 file photo shows Chicago Cardinal Francis George listening to reporters’ questions before he left for Rome to meet with Vatican officials and other American cardinals about the child sex abuse scandals in the United States. Attorneys for sex abuse victims will post thousands of documents to a website Tuesday morning, Jan. 21, 2014, after receiving them from the Archdiocese of Chicago last week as part of legal settlements. Attorneys say the documents will show that the archdiocese concealed the abuse for decades. George says the disclosures are an attempt at transparency and to help victims heal. He’s also apologized to victims and area Catholics for the abuse. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)

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CHICAGO (AP) — After a 13-year-old boy reported in 1979 that a priest raped and threatened him at gunpoint to keep quiet, the Archdiocese of Chicago assured the boy’s parents that, although the cleric avoided prosecution, he would receive treatment and have no further contact with minors.

But the Rev. William Cloutier, who already had been accused of molesting other children, was returned to ministry a year later and went on to abuse again before he resigned in 1993, two years after the boy’s parents filed a lawsuit. Officials took no action against Cloutier over his earliest transgressions because he “sounded repentant,” according to internal archdiocese documents released Tuesday that show how the archdiocese tried to contain a mounting scandal over child sexual abuse.

For decades, those at the highest levels of the nation’s third-largest archdiocese moved accused priests from parish to parish while hiding the clerics’ histories from the public. The documents, released through settlements between attorneys for the archdiocese and victims, describe how the late Cardinals John Cody and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin often approved the reassignments. The archdiocese removed some priests from ministry, but often years or decades after the clergy were known to have molested children.

While disturbing stories of clergy sexual abuse have wrenched the Roman Catholic Church across the globe, the newly released documents offer the broadest look yet into how one of its largest and most prominent American dioceses responded to the scandal.

The documents, posted online Tuesday, cover only 30 of the at least 65 clergy for whom the archdiocese says it has substantiated claims of child abuse. Vatican documents related to the 30 cases were not included, under the negotiated terms of the disclosure.

The records also didn’t include the files of former priest Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children and whose case prompted an apology from George and an internal investigation of how the archdiocese responds to abuse claims.

But the more than 6,000 pages include internal communications between church officials, disturbing testimony about specific abuses, meeting schedules where allegations were discussed, and letters from anguished parishioners. The names of victims, and details considered private under mental health laws were redacted.

Cardinal Francis George said in a letter distributed to parishes last week that the archdiocese agreed to turn over the records in an attempt to help the victims heal. “I apologize to all those who have been harmed by these crimes and this scandal,” George wrote.

Officials in the archdiocese said most of the abuse detailed in the files released Tuesday occurred before 1988, none after 1996, and that all these cases ultimately were reported to authorities.

But victims’ lawyers argue many of the allegations surfaced after George assumed control of the archdiocese in 1997, and some of the documents relate to how the church handled the cases more recently.

“The issue is not when the abuse happened; the issue is what they did once it was reported,” said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented about 200 victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area.

When a young woman reported in 1970 that she’d been abused as a teen, for example, Cody assured the priest that the “whole matter has been forgotten” because “no good can come of trying to prove or disprove the allegations.”

Accused priests often were quietly sent away for a time for treatment or training programs, the documents show. When the accused clerics returned, officials often assigned them to new parishes and asked other priests to monitor them around children.

In one 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests worries about parishioners discovering the record of the Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey, who was moved four times because of abuse allegations.

“Unfortunately, one of the key parishioners … received an anonymous phone call which made reference

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