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EDITORIAL: Archdiocese sends out conflicting signals about past abuse scandal

Bishop Raymond Goedert.

Bishop Raymond Goedert at Holy Name Cathedral in March 2013. | Sun-Times

Before the Archdiocese of Chicago ushered in an era of heightened transparency, Raymond Goedert, a top church official, followed the indefensible practice for dealing with priests who allegedly molested children.

He talked to church lawyers instead of calling the cops.

In all, Goedert since has admitted, he failed to alert the police in the cases of 25 priests accused of sexual abusing minors.

That is a failure of lasting shame for Goedert, who is now a retired bishop, and the church.


Yet Goedert, who is 90, lives in the “cardinal’s mansion” on Chicago’s Gold Coast. He recently was praised by a Northwest Side pastor as being among the “most respected priests” in the diocese. And he also recently presided alongside Cardinal Blase Cupich at a mass.

We don’t know exactly what should be done about a permanently compromised cleric such as Goedert. That is, of course, Cupich’s call.

But can we agree on this? Nobody should be praising him as one of the “most respected priests” in the diocese.

He lost that honor when he — and other church leaders — looked away again and again.

All of this — as reported by Robert Herguth of the Sun-Times on Sunday — is a sad reminder that the Catholic Church in Chicago still has a ways to go in fully acknowledging and coming to terms with the worst of its past.

Herguth’s report comes in the wake of two big developments that have put priest sex-abuse back in the news. In Pennsylvania, a grand jury recently concluded that bishops and other church leaders covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years. Additionally, a former Vatican diplomat alleged last month in an 11-page letter that a prominent American cardinal was restored to public ministry even though Pope Francis had been warned he was a sexual abuser. The cardinal has since resigned.

In Chicago, the sting of these scandals lingers in part, no doubt, because of mixed messages like this from the church’s hierarchy even now. In a related story in the Sun-Times this week, seminarians complained to Herguth that Cupich, in a recent talk at Mundelein Seminary, was “tone-deaf” when discussing the sex abuse scandal.

The cardinal reportedly assured the seminarians that protecting children from harm was part of the church’s “agenda,” but added that “we have a bigger agenda than to be distracted by all of this.”

The Archdiocese of Chicago in the last decade has done commendable work to remove abuser priests from the ministry. Equally important, it has put into place policies and procedures to safeguard against a repeat of the past.

The Chicago diocese has, in many ways, set the standard of reform for other dioceses.

Now, more than ever, it needs to stop sending out mixed signals.

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