Victims’ lawyers call documents on priests accused of abuse ‘misleading,’ ‘disturbing’

SHARE Victims’ lawyers call documents on priests accused of abuse ‘misleading,’ ‘disturbing’

Lawyers representing dozens of alleged sexual abuse victims are calling the Archdiocese of Chicago’s release last week of 15,000 pages of documents detailing investigations into 36 priests “misleading” and “disturbing.”

Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman on Tuesday said the release is not a “full disclosure” and are questioning how there are just 66 “credibly” accused priests in a large archdiocese, when compared to the 300 priests accused of sexual abuse in Boston, and the 266 in Los Angeles.

While seated in front of poster boards featuring photos of the accused priests, the two lawyers told reporters in their Loop office that the document release was “selective.”

All of the priests detailed in the documents are out of ministry, and 14 of them are deceased, according to the archdiocese. The cases — many of which include hundreds of pages of documents — concern priests with at least one substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, according to the archdiocese. Most of the cases included in the documents involve incidents that happened before 1988.

Cardinal Francis George last week said the documents, which follows the release of 6,000 pages of about 30 other priests in January, reveals the archdiocese’s commitment to “transparency.”

“It is a mislabeling by the archdiocese public relations department as saying that it is transparent and a full disclosure,” Anderson said. “It is not only mislabeling. It is misleading.”

Anderson said his firm, Jeff Anderson & Associates, is currently representing dozens of victims of clergy sexual abuse and criticized the archdiocese’s exclusion of his firm in analyzing the documents related to the 36 priests. His firm had been involved in the January release of documents, but Anderson says ties with the archdiocese had been cut after he held a news conference in January questioning Cardinal George’s involvement in the case of convicted child molester and defrocked Catholic priest Daniel McCormack.

“We were shut out of the process that we thought we should be included and we were not permitted to review those files that we should have been,” Anderson said. “The archdiocese under the direction of the Cardinal chose to do an internal review of those files and then chose to release what they thought they wanted to release and spin it the way they chose. It was done entirely by the top officials and their representatives, without any outside scrutiny.”

That internal review included hiring a lawyer to represent the accused priests, Pearlman said.

“It should be almost embarrassing that the only seat missing in that room was a representative of the victims,” Pearlman said. “And to suggest that a process where representatives of the perpetrators and the diocese were in a room, and the victims were not, to suggest that that process had any credibility, is fiction.”

The lawyers now want the archdiocese to let them review all files of accused priests, not just the credibly accused, to vet whether those priests are clear of wrongdoing. Those names would not be released to the public unless the archdiocese deems them credibly accused.

“Until we are given the opportunity to scrutinize every file of every offender, accused and credibly accused, we can’t be comfortable,” Anderson said. “[We’ll be comfortable] when the public knows what they need to know and the practices have been improved and the Archdiocese of Chicago and officials have taken any ownership for their past mishandling of credible sexual abuse.”

Pearlman said the files lack victim statements, which have been heavily redacted, and he called much of the release “redundant.” He said the archdiocese has not proven they know how to handle sexual abuse allegations going forward.

“Until this Archdiocese starts listening to the victims and stops listening to the public relations people, this problem will not and cannot be fixed. This is not a time to reshape history. Pat yourself on the back for what you have done in the past. This is the time to be humble, admit what you did wrong and talk to the very people harmed — the survivors — to figure out what they need in order to fix the problem.”

Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Susan Burritt said in an email that the archdiocese stands by its document release last week: “We stand by the integrity of this document release. We believe it is time to move beyond inflammatory and hollow rhetoric and seek to achieve understanding and reconciliation.”

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