Lawyers to archdiocese: add Rev. George Clements to list of priests accused of sex abuse

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has paid $800,000 this year to settle decades-old claims against the longtime Bronzeville pastor and four other priests.

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Father George Clements in 2017.

Fr. George Clements, who died in 2019, was suspended by the Chicago archdiocese after allegations arose that he had sexually abused parishioners in the 1970s. Lawyers for a man who was part of an $800,000 settlement with the church want the priest added to a list of priests from the archdiocese who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The Archdiocese of Chicago last month doubled the length of a list of priests deemed to have been credibly accused of sex abuse, but lawyers for a man who received a six-figure payout from the church last year say the list is missing the name of the Rev. George Clements.

Clements, a civil rights activist who led the congregation of Holy Angels Church in Bronzeville for more than two decades, stepped down from the ministry at the request of Archbishop Blase Cupich in 2019 after being accused of sexual abuse dating to the 1970s. Clements, who denied the allegations, died a few months later at 87.

The archdiocese in February paid an $800,000 settlement to a man who accused Clements and four other Chicago-area priests of sexual abuse dating to the 1970s.

The four other priests were added to the archdiocese’s list of clergy who faced credible accusations of sex abuse in October. Clements was not among them.

“My client was found credible and given a six-figure settlement,” attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who negotiated the payout on behalf of multiple clients, said at a news conference Thursday.

Though the settlement agreement signed in February says the archdiocese admitted no wrongdoing, Garabedian said the payout speaks volumes.

“Why would they pay well over $100,000 if they didn’t find my client to be credible?” Garabedian said.

A spokesman said the archdiocese “does not comment on settlements, lawsuits or pending litigation.”

The client who accused Clements was not the same person who first came forward in 2019 with the accusations that prompted Clements to step down, an indication that Clements faced more than one allegation of abuse, Garabedian said. Adding Clements’ name to the list would help his client, who is now in his 50s, heal from the abuse.

Archdiocese spokesman Manny Gonzales said Clements’ case was still being reviewed by church officials and that no decision has been reached about adding his name to the list.

Clements was a high-profile figure in Chicago and the church. He was the first African American graduate of Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary and in 1969 became the first Black pastor at Holy Angels.

Over the years, Clements became a noted civil rights activist who marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. in Chicago, as well as across the South. In 1980, he became the first Catholic priest to adopt a child, and would go on to adopt three other children. His story was made into a TV movie in 1987, with Louis Gossett Jr. playing Clements.

Garabedian said his client was sexually abused by Clements starting at age 7, and that the abuse continued for five years from 1974 to 1979.

A report by ABC-TV Channel 7 this year said officials from the archdiocese said that the church’s Independent Review Board found one accusation against Clements was not credible, and did not complete a second investigation because Clements had died. Garbabedian said Thursday that the review board never requested an interview or any documentation from his client.

A 2018 investigation by State’s Attorney Lisa Madigan found that Illinois’ six archdioceses badly underreported the number of clergy who were credibly accused of sexual abuse, and a Sun-Times investigation found the Chicago archdiocese’s list of predator priests was similarly incomplete. Cupich said in 2018 that over the years, the Chicago archdiocese had paid out about $200 million to settle claims of sexual abuse by clergy.

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