When Cardinal Joseph Bernardin died in 1996, he was a revered leader of the third largest archdiocese in the nation. Part of his legacy was how he instituted reforms in the way cases of suspected sexual abuse by priests were dealt with.
And yet documents released this week show even he was deeply flawed in the handling of these cases.
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The 6,000 pages of internal communications about 30 priests released Tuesday document how the Archdiocese of Chicago, under two cardinals spanning five decades, mismanaged these allegations, allowing in many cases predatory priests to continue to have access to new victims.
Robert Mayer, for example, was moved by Bernardin from St. Edna Catholic Church in Arlington Heights after 12 instances of inappropriate behavior were reported -- but the reasons for the move were hidden.
More cases of abuse surfaced at his next stop -- St. Stephen Protomartyr in Des Plaines -- and another church three years later, when he was indicted and finally removed from his priestly duties.
"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 official archdiocese statement says.
That's certainly our hope, too. But we believe, as do the victims and their attorneys, that this is just the beginning of the transparency needed from the church and that healing will only come when all cases are public and out in the open.
"This is a great first step, but what is settled is far from what we're shooting for," said attorney Jeff Anderson, who is seeking files on the 35 other archdiocesan priests who are known to have had substantiated claims of child abuse against them.
It's important for the church, its faithful, its clergy and especially the victims.
"I know there were many more (victims)," said Carmen Severino, 59, of Naperville, a victim of sexual abuse from a South Side priest during her preteen and teenage years. "But (by coming forward) if I can prevent another child from going through what I went through, it's all worth it."