Father Vince McCaffrey had a history of predatory abuse when he arrived at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling in the 1980s. Catholic church leaders knew it; parishioners did not.
He was assigned to four parishes in the Chicago area over the years, abusing as many as 100 children before being jailed for child pornography possession. While McCaffrey was in Wheeling, the 10-year-old son of Jim and Kathy Laarveld became one of his victims.
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"It even happened on his first communion, in my own house, while we were taking family photos and he was sitting on (McCaffrey's) lap. He was a professional," Kathy Laarveld said of the priest.
The Laarvelds were among the victims and family members who spoke, sometimes tearfully, during a news conference Tuesday in Chicago, where, as part of a court settlement, the Archdiocese of Chicago released more than 6,000 pages of internal communications about 30 of its 65 priests accused of sexually abusing children.
While disturbing stories of clergy sexual abuse have wrenched the Roman Catholic Church across the globe, the newly released documents offer the broadest look yet into how one of its largest and most prominent American dioceses responded to the scandal.
The documents, which can be viewed online, show that church leaders were aware of the abuse and made efforts to conceal it.
There are many incriminating and disturbing letters, including one on how to deal with Father Mark Holihan, nicknamed "Happy Hands Holihan," who had been found in bed with a young boy and was the subject of rumors in his parish for 10 years; one that scolded Father Robert Mayer, a one-time priest at St. Edna Church in Arlington Heights, for sexual impropriety after he gave his "solemn assurance" that he would no longer behave that way; and another from Cardinal Francis George in 2002 seeking a reduced sentence and early release for Father Norbert Maday, jailed for child sexual assault.
Attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman, who represent 50 victims of the 30 priests, said the documents are only "a partial revelation of truth" and demanded full disclosure and transparency from every religious order in the Catholic Church.
The records didn't include the files of former priest Daniel McCormack, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children and whose case prompted an apology from Cardinal George and an internal investigation of how the archdiocese responds to abuse claims.
Through a statement, the archdiocese apologized to the victims and spoke of its efforts to help them.
"Our hope is through this release of documents, and the work we are doing through our Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, we can help further promote healing among all those affected by these crimes," the statement said. "The Archdiocese acknowledges that its leaders made some decisions decades ago that are now difficult to justify. It is not the Church we know or the Church we wanted to be."
Archdiocese officials said most of the abuse detailed in the files released Tuesday occurred before 1988, none after 1996, and that all these cases ultimately were reported to authorities.
But victims' lawyers argue many of the allegations surfaced after George assumed control of the archdiocese in 1997, and some of the documents relate to how the church handled the cases more recently.
"The issue is not when the abuse happened; the issue is what they did once it was reported," said Pearlman, who has represented about 200 victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area.
When a young woman reported in 1970 that she'd been abused as a teen, for example, Cardinal John Cody assured the priest the "whole matter has been forgotten" because "no good can come of trying to prove or disprove the allegations."
Accused priests often were quietly sent away for a time for treatment or training programs, the documents show. When the accused clerics returned, officials often assigned them to new parishes and asked other priests to monitor them around children.
Mayer was assigned in 1981 as a priest at St. Edna Catholic Church in Arlington Heights, where complaints quickly arose of inappropriate conduct toward children. Officials in the archdiocese moved him to other suburban parishes, where other abuse claims arose, and kept secret the reasons for his transfers, according to church documents.
Anderson said the documents show the church leadership systemically protected the offenders and the diocese's reputation, deceiving the public, parishioners and police. But he stopped short of saying that Cardinal George and other church leaders should face criminal charges for their failure to report the abuse.
"Their primary concern was not that other kids would be abused. It's that people would find out," Pearlman said.
Many at Tuesday's news conference took offense at Cardinal George's statement last week that the priest abuse scandal was something in the church's past.
"This is an ongoing crisis, and it is disingenuous and dangerous for Cardinal George to depict this as something that's happened in the past," said David Clohessy, from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Right now, some of these priests are still living and working in the community."
That's why Carmen Severino of Naperville said it was important to speak out Tuesday. The 59-year-old said she was abused by Father Thomas Paramo at her parish, Our Lady of Guadalupe, on the South Side during her preteen and teen years. The priest's name was not included in the documents released Tuesday.
"It was hard (to share my story). The little girl inside of me still feels a lot of anxiety about it," she said after speaking in front of rows of TV news cameras Tuesday. "I know there were many more (victims). But if I can prevent another child from going through what I went through, it was all worth it."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.