Chicago Clergy Sex Abuse Case Settled

SEX ABUSE SCANDAL graphic, with Roman Catholic priest seen in shadows, on black background
AP / CBS
The Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday it had agreed to pay more than $12.6 million to settle lawsuits by 16 people who accused priests of sexual abuse, and it made public a candid deposition in the case by Cardinal Francis George.

"My hope is that these settlements will help the survivors and their families begin to heal and move forward," George said in a separate statement in which he also apologized for the abuse.

"We must continue to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of the children in our care," he said.

George's public apology, as well as the private apologies he extended to each of the victims, was part of the settlement, said attorney Jeff Anderson, who represented some of the victims.

Fourteen of the cases involve sexual abuse by 10 different priests and two relate to the Rev. Daniel J. McCormack, who pleaded guilty last year to charges he abused five children.

The controversy continued after McCormack pleaded guilty, when critics said his plea deal spared the archdiocese embarrassing testimony about mismanagement and foot-dragging in the case, and accused the church of being secretive, reports CBS affiliate WBBM-TV in Chicago.

The archdiocese has now settled four of the five lawsuits stemming from abuse by McCormack.

The archdiocese has paid $65 million to settle approximately 250 claims during the past 30 years, said its chancellor, Jimmy Lago. Mediation continues in about a couple of dozen other cases, he said.

The latest settlements were reached through a mediation process in which the cardinal himself gave a lengthy deposition.

In the deposition, George answered searching questions from an attorney for victims about why priests accused of sexual abuse were not removed.

He acknowledged that he took no action when an archdiocese review board recommended removing McCormack from the ministry two months after the priest was arrested in August 2005.

"They gave me that advice, yes," George said in the deposition. "I wish that I had followed it with all my heart."

At the time, George said, he "thought that they had not finished the investigation - they hadn't considered all the evidence."

Attorneys said it was the first time such a candid question-and-answer session under oath by one of the Catholic Church's top leaders had been made public because of a settlement agreement. George previously acknowledged he failed to act soon enough in McCormack's case.

One of the victims, Bob Brancato, said he was raped by both his principal and his priest, Father James Steel, at St. Joseph's in Wheeling in the early 1980s, reports WBBM-TV

"26 years of burying it deep inside, suicide attempts, I now know that it wasn't my fault," Brancato said.

Despite the settlement, plaintiff Therese Albrecht said it was "not a happy, joyous day for me."

Albrecht, 48, of Steger, said she has been in therapy and at one point was suicidal since she was raped and sodomized from age 8 to 11 by the Rev. Joseph R. Bennett, a priest at St. John De La Salle on Chicago's South Side. She said she did not report the abuse until she was an adult, and then felt the archdiocese did not believe her.

Bennett was removed from the ministry in 2006, about two years after Albrecht came forward.

"I'm very grateful I survived this. I didn't think I would," Albrecht said.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Bennett on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Listed phone numbers for Joseph R. Bennetts in Illinois were either disconnected or rang unanswered.

Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued a statement criticizing the church but praising the victims for insisting "that secret church documents about these pedophile priests will be made public."