Coming Clean

11.07.14 1:00 AM ET

Chicago Priests Raped and Pillaged for 50 Years

In a disturbing document dump outlining lurid clerical abuse and a trail of coverups, retiring Cardinal Francis George tries to clear his conscience.

Some of the accusations against perverted priests are handwritten letters penned by worried mothers. Others are emails sent decades after the abuses occurred. There are letters so old the mimeographed typewriting is smudged and difficult to read. There are emails so recent, they call into question just how much of the clerical abuse is still going on. In all, more than 15,000 pages from the secret archives of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review have been released on the Chicago Archdiocese website relating to hundreds of lurid sexual-abuse crimes by 36 perverted priests dating back to the 1950s. The most recent documents are only a year old.

The disturbing document dump was released Thursday as the retiring Cardinal Francis George prepares to leave the post he has held since 1997. They follow a similar gesture last January when the archdiocese released 6,000 pages of documents pertaining to 30 pedophilic priests as part of a legal settlement brokered by Chicago attorney Jeff Anderson. The Chicago Archdiocese has paid more than $130 million in abuse-victim settlements. “We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue,” George said in a statement on the eve of the document release. “Child abuse is a crime and a sin.”

While the document trove is impressive, many of the names and an abundance of detail has been blackened out, no doubt for privacy issues. Records on two of Chicago’s most notorious pedophile priests were not released because of ongoing legal action. The cases involving Daniel McCormack, who is accused of molesting three young boys, including an 8-year-old he allegedly molested on Christmas Eve, and Edward Maloney are not included because McCormack’s records have been sealed by a judge as part of his admission; Maloney is appealing his laicization with the Vatican in Rome.

The allegations include accusations of priests plying young victims with alcohol and cigarettes, of fondling, masturbating, and performing oral sex on minors, and a strong current of denial and well-documented coverup by the church that can be traced all the way to Rome.

Take the case of Father Gregory Miller, whose 275-page dossier is filled with congratulatory letters of advancement within the archdiocese. But his file is also dotted with frequent warnings of misconduct. On Page 105 of the Miller dossier (PDF), one brief summary of an allegation states, “while in Fr. Miller’s quarters in the rectory, he instructed XX to remove his clothes; Fr. Miller also removed his clothes and had an erection; Fr. Miller took his hand and rubbed XX’s leg two times, then placed his hand on XX’s stomach and began to move his hand down to XX’s genital area” the rest of the complaint has been blocked by the diocese.

A few years later, Miller’s assignment as a parish priest was renewed. Despite an “acknowledgement of misconduct policies” added to the priest’s record in 2004, followed by a “pastoral intervention plan” in 2005, Miller’s record shows the addition, in 2007, of another congratulatory letter in which the clearly improper priest is appointed to serve a second term as pastor of Saint Bernadette in Evergreen Park for six more years. “The support you have received for this reappointment is an indication of the fine pastoral leadership you have given the people of Saint Bernadette as you have proclaimed the Gospel there these past six years,” the letter from Cardinal Francis George states, followed by a personal note. “Gary, it is my hope that this will be a time of personal renewal for you as you continue your priestly service to the people who have been entrusted in your care,” the cardinal writes.

In 2012, a new complainant wrote an email to Leah McCluskey of the Chicago Archdiocese’s abuse committee, stating: “To whom, After having watched, and been wrenched by the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State story… I have a story to tell,” the unnamed accuser writes. “It goes back to 1972-73 at a parish in South Byron.”

Further documents show that the archdiocese did investigate the email, while placing Miller on watch yet again, telling him not to be alone with minors. Records state that the victim, clearly bolstered by the Sandusky case, was 13 at the time of Miller’s abuse. In a file memo in 2012, McCluskey states that when she confronted Miller, he said he did not know the young man making the claims, but when pressed with further details, McCluskey writes, “Fr. Miller responded by saying that he would like to ‘reserve comment at this time.’”

According to the memo, Miller then asked what the statute of limitations in Illinois was and to define what the allegations meant. “Fr. Miller asked for a definition of sexual abuse. I told Fr. Miller that sexual abuse does not have to mean penetration and that it may be sexual touching over and/or under clothing of the victim and/or any touch that is unwanted by the victim. I added that sexual abuse may also be showing or viewing pornographic images (to/with a victim).”

More disturbing still, despite what were clearly repeat allegations, the archdiocese’s vicar general, John Canary, wrote the errant priest to tell him that he was not to be alone with anyone under age 18, seemingly apologizing for the trouble. “This is not a judgment of guilt, nor is it a suspension of any other canonical penalty,” Canary wrote. “Every effort will be made to avoid unnecessary publicity. Should information about this become known, we will work to protect your reputation and your right to privacy.”

Reading through the documents is frustrating at times because full pages are blackened out, like the memos concerning Father William Lupo, a priest who faced multiple allegations, including “exposure of full naked body in bed to 14 year old girl in rectory and of partial nakedness to two other teen-age girls in/around his bedroom shower; passionate kissing and hugging over approximately six years with at least 3 teenage girls.”

The church was so well-informed on Lupo’s sins they even sent a priestly spy, Father Jerome Jiordan, who wrote his surveillance report after spending time clearly spying on the priest (PDF). “As far as the parishioners know, I’m a house guest who finds it convenient to stay here,” he wrote in a memo to the Chicago diocese. “I have a room at the foot of the stairs to the pastor’s quarters and therefore I am in a position to know whether there are any visitors to his rooms.”

Some priests, like Father Joseph Savage (PDF), apparently not only raped children, they also pillaged Episcopalian churches in the area. The documents in his lengthy dossier clearly point to suspicion that he often brought young teenage boys into churches to steal precious relics. Yet he was allowed to keep his collar.

The revelations in the Chicago document trove show the church was clearly involved in the coverup and proliferation of pedophile abuse by not removing the abusers, which is something victims’ groups have always known. David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, says the latest revelations prove his group’s point. “This information could and should have been revealed years ago,” he said. “Lives could have been saved. Crimes could have been prevented. Families could have been preserved.” Instead, Clohessy accuses Cardinal George and dozens of his clerical colleagues of opting to put their own reputations first. “It’s as if Catholic officials thought, for years, that ‘Our job is to protect ourselves from lawsuits. So we’ll yank these dangerous men from parishes. But that’s all we’ll do. And whoever they molest next, that’s not our concern.’”

The latest documents are apparently endorsed by Pope Francis, who assigned a special child-abuse SWAT team almost a year ago with an eye toward greater transparency. John O’Malley, special counsel to Cardinal George on misconduct issues, told the Associated Press, “Cardinal George wanted it finished on his watch.” The victims understandably wish he would have “finished it” when he started almost 20 years ago, not on his way out.