Despite numerous complaints of inappropriate conduct toward children by a former priest at an Arlington Heights parish, officials in the Archdiocese of Chicago chose to move him to other suburban parishes -- where other abuse claims arose -- and keep secret the reasons for his transfer, according to church documents made public today.
Details regarding the allegations against former priest Robert Mayer, the former associate pastor at St. Edna Catholic Church in the 1980s, were among the hundreds of pages of archdiocese documents released Tuesday detailing the investigations into child molestation accusations against more than 30 priests and church officials' reactions to them.
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Cardinal Francis George said in a letter sent to parishes last week that the archdiocese agreed to turn over the records in an attempt to help the victims heal. "I apologize to all those who have been harmed by these crimes and this scandal," George wrote.
The archdiocese said all of the files released today occurred before 1996, most were in the 1980s and that eventually all 30 of the cases were reported to authorities.
Among the most troubling cases is that of Mayer who, according to the documents, was assigned to St. Edna in June 1981 after previously serving at the Church of St. Mary Lake Forest parish where, according to later reports, he molested several boys, some of them on dozens of occasions.
Mayer, who later served time in prison after being convicted of molesting a girl at a Berwyn parish in 1991, was assigned to St. Edna in June 1981, according to a timeline released by Jeff Anderson and Associates, a Chicago law firm that represents abuse survivors.
According to the documents, just four months later a nun at the parish reported that Mayer was engaging in inappropriate behavior with children in the parish. Staff at the church sent a letter to Cardinal John Cody in April 1982 regarding 12 instances of inappropriate behavior by Mayer toward children. Among the complaints were allegations that Mayer removed his clothes while socializing with minors.
In September of that year, St. Edna staff followed up the first letter with another, this one asking new Archbishop Cardinal Joseph Bernardin to remove Mayer from the parish.
Documents show that Bernardin was willing to move the priest, but wanted to keep the reasons for his potential transfer hidden.
"We will need to decide how we are going to handle the Father Mayer situation," Bernardin wrote in a memo released Tuesday. "Basically, we have agreed that we will review the matter. Our goal will be to arrange for a transfer, but on grounds other than those brought by those who have complained.
"The next question is this: Do we simply permit him to be assigned elsewhere, or must there be some evaluation of the difficulty? If there is really a problem with him, it will not be long for a crisis to develop elsewhere," Bernardin wrote.
Mayer was removed from St. Edna in August 1983, but then assigned to St. Stephen Protomartyr in Des Plaines three months later, over the reported objection of several fellow priests, according to the timeline. Shortly thereafter, a lawsuit filed regarding Mayer's conduct at St. Edna and St. Mary was settled, according to documents.
Allegations of inappropriate conduct and, later, abuse surfaced at St. Stephen. In 1984, the mother of a 13-year-old reported that Mayer was telling the teen dirty jokes. Three years later the Archdiocese learned that police were investigating complaints that the priest was giving minors alcohol and had sexually abused a minor.
In June 1987, Bernardin and Mayer reached an agreement requiring the priest to avoid all contact with children. Nonetheless, three years later, in 1990, Bernardin appointed Mayer pastor of St. Odilo in Berwyn, according to the timeline released Tuesday.
Just months into his tenure at St. Odilo, according to an indictment later filed in Cook County court, Mayer molested a 13-year-old girl in January 1991 in the church rectory. Bernardin in July of that year removed Mayer from his priestly duties.
"Over the years, you have repeatedly been the subject of allegations of sexual impropriety, and yet you have refused to modify your behavior in such a way that the risk to yourself and to the Church would be eliminated," Bernardin wrote in a draft letter to Mayer included in Tuesday's document release. "Your appointment to St. Odilo, as you well know, was approved by me only after I received your solemn assurance that you would no longer engage in the kind of behaviors that caused so much distress for your parishioners and yourself in your previous assignments. I regret to say that I now have reason to believe that you have broken this promise."
Mayer was formally indicted on a charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in December 1991, convicted about 12 months later and sentenced to three years in prison.
In 2006, four men filed a lawsuit alleging Mayer sexually abused them when they were teenagers. The suit claimed Mayer, during his time at St. Edna and elsewhere, used alcohol and pornography to gain the teens' confidence and then molest them. At least some of the plaintiffs' claims were resolved as part of a $6.65 million settlement in 2007.
Investigations conducted later found that Mayer sexually abused numerous minors during his tenures at St. Mary and St. Edna. Mayer was defrocked in 2010, one of 400 priests that the Vatican announced were laicized between 2010 and 2012 for child sexual abuse.
To read the documents, visit www.abusedinchicago.com.