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Chicago settlement shows the power survivors have to make child safety a priority

August 31, 2011

The Chicago Sun Times reported on a settlement that was reached this week between 12 clergy abuse survivors and the archdiocese of Chicago.  The settlement includes both a financial and a non-financial component.  The financial portion of the settlement, an amount that has not been disclosed, will be divided among the victim/survivors.

What makes this settlement so important is the non-monetary agreement that was reached.  The settlement calls for the archdiocese to release the files of 35 priests who have been accused of sexual abuse.  Attorney Jeff Anderson, who represents the survivors in this case, has stated that a protocol has been established whereby when a priest is determined to be found credibly accused of abuse by the archdiocese a series of actions will commence.

According to Anderson the priest will be notified by the diocese that they are subject to this new protocol.  The priest will then have the opportunity to object and to hire their own lawyer to prevent the release of their file.  The diocese will also have a 60 day window to raise their objections.  Anderson stated that if the priest chooses to object to the release of his file then he is prepared to respond, “If they get their own lawyer and fight we’ll see further delays and uncertainties, but we will be aggressive and fight hard”.

Unfortunately this new protocol will only apply to those priests whose Anderson’s law firm has brought cases against.  Anderson points out that cases have been brought by his firm against 35 of the 65 priests who the archdiocese of Chicago lists on their website as being credibly accused of abuse.  His hope is that eventually the list of files that are released will be expanded.

An additional concern is that the protocol will apply only to those priests accused of sexual abuse that the archdiocese determines are “credible”.  The diocese will state that they have a review board to assist the bishop in making that determination.  As we have seen with recent events in Kansas City and Philadelphia the review board will see only that information which the bishop wants them to see.  The determination of whether a report of sexual abuse is deemed “credible” will be up to the bishop alone.

It is unfortunate that the archdiocese of Chicago will not simply release the files of priests who have harmed children, on their own, without being forced to do so by attorneys.  In the interest of public safety the community should have this information accessible to them.  The files contain information about abuse complaints as well as information on how the diocese handled the report.  Anderson stated that “It will reveal who has handled it, how it has been handled or mishandled…who knew, what they knew, and what they did or didn’t do about it”.

Despite the obvious limitations imposed by the archdiocese of Chicago it is important to acknowledge what the 12 victim/survivors in this case were able to accomplish.  It was their bravery, courage, and determination that made this settlement possible.  Their insistence that files be released will protect children today.  One of the 12 survivors, Angel Santiago discussed his story publicly after the settlement was announced.  Santiago had been abused in the 1980’s when he was just 12 years old.  He belonged to a devout family who attended St. Francis Xavier’s parish in Chicago.  Angel’s father was a janitor at the parish.  Angel was afraid to tell his parents about the abuse he suffered because he was afraid his father would lose his job.

At a press conference following the settlement Angel stated “I feel alive again” after telling his story.  He and his fellow survivors are to be commended for reporting the crimes that were committed against them and holding the diocese accountable.

They are also to be commended for making child protection a part of their negotiated settlement.  Prior to filing for bankruptcy the archdiocese of Milwaukee asked to mediate a settlement with 24 victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse.  The settlement talks broke down over the diocese’s refusal to discuss child protection safeguards.  Archbishop Listecki stated that the victim/survivors rejected the monetary offer that was put before them.  He neglected to tell the public that the victim/survivors wanted to discuss child protection measures first, before a monetary offer was made.  The diocese refused to discuss their non-monetary concerns, the safety of children, and the attempted mediation failed.

The 12 victim/survivors of Chicago who negotiated their settlement have demonstrated that ensuring the safety of children is the number one priority for those who have suffered from clergy sexual abuse.  They are to be recognized for making child safety a priority.

  1. The Catholic church disgusts me. I feel so bad for the survivors. You live in a world that makes no sense. Realize that Catholic bishops and priests are the most hypocritical, dishonest, heartless people on earth, things are clearer. Their congregation is similar, but is mostly just selfish. None of them practice the religion, and every priest and bishop belongs in jail for what they did to you.

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