A paper trail of sexual misconduct involving 30 priests and the Archdiocese of Chicago's slow and clumsy handling of the cases is revealed in thousands of pages of documents released online Tuesday.
Most of the misconduct took place decades ago -- and most of the Roman Catholic priests involved were never criminally prosecuted. Victims' lawyers, who released the documents, had pressed for public access to the records to show that the archdiocese concealed abuse for decades, including moving priests to new parishes where they molested again.
Lawyer Chris Hurley, whose firm represents more than a dozen people pressing abuse suits against the archdiocese, said accusations against the priests were well known before the document release.
"What the archdiocese had not let us know about is how much they knew all along," Hurley said.
Meeting schedules, accusatory letters from parishioners and discussions of their claims are included in the release. The documents describe how past archbishops, including Cardinal John Cody and Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, often approved the reassignments.
In one case, a 13-year-old boy reported in 1979 that a priest raped him and later threatened him at gunpoint to keep quiet. The archdiocese assured the boy's parents that the Rev. William Cloutier would receive treatment and have no further contact with minors.
Cloutier was returned to ministry but was accused of more abuse before he resigned in 1993. Church officials took no action against Cloutier over his earliest transgressions because he "sounded repentant," the documents indicated.
Victims' lawyers also say some of the allegations came to light under Cardinal Francis George, archbishop since 1997. Father Daniel McCormack was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school.
The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack. Files on McCormack were not released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases.
"Painful though publicly reviewing the past can be, it is part of the accountability and transparency to which the archdiocese is committed," George said in a letter last week announcing the release.
The church released documents involving less than half the 65 priests it has acknowledged faced substantiated abuse claims.
"They have hand-picked 30 priests, but if they really are all about redemption and forgiveness they should release documents involving all the priests," Hurley said.
The disclosures were similar to those made in other dioceses in recent years that showed how the Roman Catholic Church shielded priests and failed for many years to report child sex abuse to authorities.
Timothy Lytton, professor at Albany Law School in New York and author of the book Holding Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront Clergy Sexual Abuse, said the issue for the church remains accountability.
"It's not whether the claims were true because the church has acknowledged all along that almost all the allegations are true," Lytton said. "The issue is what church officials did to figure out what was true and what was false. What the victims want is accountability.
George, in his letter, said that is what the church is trying to provide.
"Telling the truth does not create an excuse for failure," he said. "But it makes a difference, as we go forward, to know in what the failure consists, to know that the truth has been told and that the Church is committed to accountability and transparency."
Contributing: Associated Press