CHICAGO – Internal documents reveal how the Archdiocese of Chicago tried for decades to contain a mounting scandal over child sexual abuse by priests.
That includes moving accused priests from parish to parish and assigning others to watch them around children. Many went on to abuse again.
Former Cardinals John Cody and Joseph Bernardin often approved the reassignments.
The documents were turned over to victims' attorneys and were posted online Tuesday. They cover only 30 of the at least 65 clergy for whom the archdiocese says it has substantiated claims of child abuse.
Victim attorneys say they show that the archdiocese concealed the abuse for decades.
Cardinal Francis George says the disclosures are an attempt at transparency and a means to help victims heal. He's also apologized to victims and area Catholics.
Below are excerpts from the documents regarding some of the archdiocese's more well-known accused priests:
Rev. Robert E. Mayer
Robert E. Mayer was accused in a 1983 lawsuit of exposing himself to several altar boys from St. Edna's in Arlington Heights during a lake outing and trying to fondle two boys.
While that litigation was pending, another priest at the church, Rev. John J. Hurley, wrote to the archdiocese to say the mother of one alleged victim felt “the law firm of the Archdiocese is steamrolling over her and her husband.” The mother, he continued, suspected the church's strategy was to draw out the litigation until the financial strain became too much for the family.
“She feels powerless,” the letter said. “She feels hurt and sad and rejected.”
The priest recommended various options, including a face-to-face meeting between the family and then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Hurley wrote, “It might well be a healing experience if the plaintiffs met a warm human being.”
Revs. Kenneth C. Ruge and Robert C. Becker
Kenneth C. Ruge and Robert C. Becker allegedly worked in tandem, taking children on camping trips in the 1980s and abusing them inside an RV. They would turn off the RV's heat as a pretext for climbing into bed naked with the boys to keep them warm, church documents said.
Becker was a top canon lawyer for the archdiocese and worked at multiple parishes over decades. Ruge was relieved of duties at Norridge's Divine Savior parish in 1991, after which Bernardin wrote to him, striking a reassuring tone.
“Ken,” he wrote, “be assured that you have a special place in my daily prayers ... I will do everything possible to help you.”
As Ruge lay on his deathbed in 2002, a letter addressed to him from a victim's relatives said they hoped he “would suffer as much as possible now before burning in hell.” He died shortly after, never seeing the letter because he was semi-comatose, at age 64.
Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey
Vincent E. McCaffrey was accused of molesting more than a dozen children, some of them hundreds of times. Once, he allegedly tried to run over a victim with his car when the child fled from an attack.
In 1980, the head pastor at McCaffrey's church, Our Lady of Loretto in Hometown, sent a scathing letter to the archdiocese – copying in then-Cardinal John Cody – letting them know the parents of a boy had gone to police with abuse claims. The Rev. James O'Connor wrote, “The police in Hometown have been very good in keeping the situation quiet.”
In a 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests also said several prominent parishioners had received an anonymous phone call that McCaffrey sexually abused boys.
“We all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move,” Raymond Goedert wrote. “We don't know if the anonymous caller will strike again.”
Rev. William J. Cloutier
Throughout the 1980s, the Catholic Church applied a policy of therapy and reinstatement, even in the case of William J. Cloutier, a priest at St. Damian's in Oak Forest who was accused of sodomizing a 13-year-old and later threatening him at gunpoint if he dared tell anyone.
Church documents reveal officials had several prior complaints against Cloutier, but took no action other than confronting him and accepting that he “sounded repentant.” Upon returning to active ministry after about a year of therapy, Cloutier was accused of abusing other children, and church documents show he was placed under monitoring in 1987.
In 1991, Cloutier was pressured to resign and made to live in special housing for priests who had abused children. Some documents suggested it might still be possible to return him to active ministry, and another notes Cloutier was an adept computer engineer and that he be given a job working with computers for the diocese “if this all doesn't blow over.”
John Curran's alleged abuse dated back to the 1960s, and he once allegedly told a victim the molestation was part of sexual education instruction.
But by 1995, four years after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him, Curran's superiors still suggested the priesthood was his calling. Bernardin wrote to Curran that year, saying, “I cannot even imagine you as anything but a priest.”
Curran was a parish priest at Chicago's St. Christina's through the 1980s and into the early 1990s.
One of the diocese's priests wrote in 1995, “It seems pretty clear to me that John presents no risk to children since he hardly ever even leaves his room.”
Later, after he was ordered to follow strict protocols, Curran at times seemed to thumb his nose at his superiors, not returning phone calls and moving into an apartment when they wanted him to get help elsewhere.
Source: Documents made public Tuesday as part of a legal settlement with the Archdiocese of Chicago.