For the victims of predatory priests and their families, there will never be enough transparency to counter the years of perceived lies and secrets at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. But thanks to a legal settlement between the archdiocese of Chicago and the victims of 30 pedophilic priests, a cache of 6,000 secret documents has just been made public, proving what victims have always believed: that the Catholic Church knowingly covered up years of abuse.
Some of the documents released on Tuesday and published on the website of attorney Jeff Anderson, who brokered the deal in 2008, are deeply disturbing. Many show a terrible level of child abuse, including detailed allegations by young boys of sodomy, forced oral sex and, in one case, a young girl who recounted how a priest masturbated and ejaculated on top of her. One complaint details how a priest threatened his victim at gunpoint not to tell authorities about the ongoing rape. The documents also show how the hierarchy within the Chicago diocese willingly moved priests around and lied to the victims’ families, legal teams and even the local police. At one point, as many as 60 percent of the churches in the Chicago archdiocese had pedophile priests, according to a Voices of the Faithful study conducted in 2010.
Several documents also show that Chicago bishops petitioned the Holy See in Rome and asked for guidance, despite years of denials from Rome that these matters were dealt with on a purely local level. In the case of Father Daniel Mark Holihan—who, according to the documents, was referred to as “Happy Hands Holihan” by his Catechism students—a memorandum was submitted to the Chicago church by a representative from the Archdiocese of Chicago Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review. “I referred this matter to the Holy See on 15 September 2003, receiving a reply on 16 June 2004 dispensing from canonical prescription and instructing me to conduct an administrative penal process,” the memorandum said.
According to complaints against Holihan spanning 10 years, the priest had been seen unzipping a young altar boy’s pants, and he had been caught in bed masturbating an underage minor. He was eventually removed from public ministry in 2002 and sentenced to a life of prayer. According to the memorandum, “he is directed to spend at least one hour per day in prayer for the victims of abuse, particularly those whom he has harmed.”
According to the website Bishop Accountability, which keeps a detailed record of predator priests and those who move them around, Holihan was removed from public ministry but never laicized.
Many of the documents show how the bishops in charge of the Chicago archdiocese signed off on transfers of problem priests to other American parishes. In some cases, the priests were moved with their case file, alerting the new diocese that the incoming priest had disturbing carnal weaknesses. In other cases, there was no warning at all, effectively sending the known predators to new diocese where they could reoffend unhindered.
Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman, who, together with attorney Jeff Anderson, secured the release of the documents in a settlement with the church, says that they only cover 30 of 65 priests known to be sexually abusive in Chicago. At a press conference in Chicago on Tuesday, Pearlman said that each case file shows “systematic cover up of abuse.” He said that in each instance the victims “reported abuse, reported allegations, the archdiocese worked hard to cover it up and keep it secret, then the transfer of priests.” Pearlman says the clergy knew exactly what they were doing. “They were not mistakes,” he said.
One of the more disturbing letters is from Cardinal Francis George to Father Norbert Maday, who was convicted and is serving 20 years in prison for child abuse, explaining how the diocese has tried to lighten his sentence. “We have tried, as you known, a number of avenues to see if your sentenced might be reduced or parole be given early,” the cardinal wrote. “So far, we have not had any success, but we’ll keep trying and I personally hope that you will not lose hope.”
Maday was accused of abusing between 35 and 45 children in Wisconsin, which is under the Chicago Archdiocese. According to the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (Snap), he was even accused of bringing troubled children to his diocese under false pretenses and abusing them. One of the priest’s victims committed suicide in 2002, leaving a heartbreaking note blaming the priest for his loss of hope. According to the Chicago Tribune, Maday was released in July 2013 and is living in Oshkosh, Wisconsin under a program that monitors sexual predators.
A Vatican spokesman refused comment on the Chicago document dump. But the Chicago Archdiocese released a statement: “The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify. They made those decisions in accordance with the prevailing knowledge at the time… We realize the information included in these documents is upsetting. It is painful to read. It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be. The Archdiocese sincerely apologizes for the hurt and suffering of the victims and their families as a result of this abuse.”
Of the 30 priests whose files were outed in the Chicago documents, only four were removed from the priesthood and four were convicted in secular courts. Only one was both convicted and defrocked. Fourteen of the priests are deceased. The Chicago Archdiocese also says that the practice of covering up for the sins of the priests is over. “Today no priest with even one substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor serves in ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago.” But for the victims of the abuse who have been vindicated after years of apparent lies, assurance from the Church is simply not good enough.