CHICAGO -- As head of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin got credit for instituting reforms and throwing out guilty priests in the midst of a child abuse scandal that covered four decades.
> Bernardin not only refused to pursue a canonical trial to remove Rev. Norbert Maday, a convicted child molester, from the priesthood, he increased the priest’s salary to help him in prison after loaning Maday $100,000 for his criminal defense.
In a 1996 letter to Maday in prison, Bernardin wrote: “I have decided I will not seek your dismissal from the clerical state … I do not judge that justice and equity would be served by so severe a sanction. You have suffered enough by your present deprivation of ministry and your incarceration.”
➢ Bernardin was aware that Rev. John Curran molested children as early as 1990, but Bernardin promised not to disclose his knowledge of any allegations, and Curran continued to have access to children until 1995, when Bernardin ordered Curran to go to treatment. Curran was finally suspended in 1996 because he refused treatment, not because of his abuse.
> A priest who allegedly raped a nun, abused a seminarian and had sexual relationships with married women was allowed to remain a pastor after the vicar for priests told Bernardin that demoting Rev. William J. O'Brien would destroy the priest’s career and be “demoralizing” for him.
In a Sept. 1991 memo to Bernardin, Bishop Charles Goedert, vicar for priests, discussed their earlier meeting in which they reviewed “all of the more serious cases” and O’Brien’s case in particular.
In a Oct. 1991 memo to the Vicar for Priests Office, Bernardin requested a summary of O’Brien’s “situation” and noted that O’Brien “is not out of the woods yet in terms of liability.”
An April 1993 memo to Bernardin stated that O’Brien needs to look into a lengthy spiritual retreat with an after-care program and a spiritual director. It also said he needs to confront his past behavior.
A Nov. 1993 memo to O’Brien’s file said O’Brien assured them that he would not “act out” again like he has in the past. He has taken precautions in his personal life and those situations would be handled properly the next time around.
After more sexual accusations emerged later, O'Brien was removed as pastor in 2005 and resigned from the priesthood in 2006.
Bernardin was Archbishop of Cincinnati from 1972 to 1982, when he went to Chicago. He was archbishop there until 1996, when he died of cancer.
According to previous news reports, Bernardin instituted reforms in 1991 when dozens of accused Chicago priests were removed from ministry. One of those priests was Rev. Kenneth Ruge.
After nine boys accused Ruge of molesting them, Bernardin removed Ruge as a parish pastor in 1991 and told parishioners that Ruge was being sent to a hospital for “personal issues,” according to the newly released documents.
In 1992, the archdiocese was served a grand jury subpoena about Ruge, and the priest was immediately sent to treatment. By 1994, Ruge was working at Catholic Charities.
In a 2007 deposition, Goedert spoke about many of the allegations against Ruge, including allegations by another priest. Goedert conceded that Ruge was only removed after there was possibility of a public scandal.
The documents show that 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 Cardinals John Cody, Bernardin and Francis George, the current archbishop, often approved the reassignments.
In a 1989 letter to Bernardin, the vicar for priests worried about parishioners discovering the record of the Rev. Vincent E. McCaffrey, who was moved four times by Cody and Bernardin because of abuse allegations.
"Unfortunately, one of the key parishioners ... received an anonymous phone call which made reference by name to Vince and alleged misconduct on his part with young boys," wrote Goedert. "We all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move. We don't know if the anonymous caller will strike again."
McCaffrey ultimately admitted to molesting more than a dozen victims between 1976 and 1990 and was sentenced to 20 years for child pornography. McCaffrey wasn’t defrocked until 2010.
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 Cardinal 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.
When a young woman reported in 1970 that she'd been abused as a teen, Cody assured the priest that the "whole matter has been forgotten" because "no good can come of trying to prove or disprove the allegations."
When a 13-year-old boy reported in 1979 that a priest raped and threatened him at gunpoint to keep quiet, the archdiocese assured the boy's parents that the priest 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.”
Church officials worried about losing parishioners and "potential priests" over abuse scandals. "This question I believe is going to get stickier and stickier," Patrick O'Malley, then-vicar for priests, wrote in a 1992 letter.
Then, in 2002, a national scandal about dioceses' failures to stop abusers consumed the American church. U.S. bishops nationwide adopted a toughened disciplinary policy and pledged to remove all guilty priests from church jobs.
In a letter distributed to parishes last week, George apologized for the abuse and said the archdiocese agreed to turn over the records in an attempt to help the victims heal.
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.
For many victims, it was too little and too late.
"Where was the church for the victims of this sick, demented, twisted pedophile?" one man wrote in a 2002 letter to George about abuse by Maday, the priest Bernardin absolved. "Why wasn't the church looking out for us? We were children, for God's sake."