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Kadner: Sad record of hiding child sex abuse

Attorney Jeff Andersleft places his hfiles Catholic priests credibly accused sexually abusing minors Archdiocese Chicago prior news conference Tuesday Jan.

Attorney Jeff Anderson, left, places his hand on the files of Catholic priests credibly accused of sexually abusing minors in the Archdiocese of Chicago, prior to a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, in Chicago. Joining Anderson is attorney Marc Pearlman. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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Updated: February 23, 2014 6:37AM



I may be one of the few who was never surprised that the Chicago Archdiocese tried to bury allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

The archdiocese is a bureaucracy. Such organizations always try to avoid scandals.

There’s a belief that clergymen ought to be better than the rest of us. I can appreciate why people are disappointed, even angry, when that faith is destroyed.

But the clergy are subject to normal human frailties. That includes committing sex crimes and covering up such crimes.

At this point, there should be very little shock at revelations that sex crimes against children are often hidden, frequently mishandled and repeatedly result in cover-ups.

There are still apologists for Penn State who want to believe that head football coach Joe Paterno knew nothing about Jerry Sandusky’s years-long molesting of boys.

Even in hindsight there are those who want to turn a blind eye to the evil nature of child sexual abuse.

Yet, I wonder how many of us would believe such a charge if it were leveled against a relative, close friend or longtime colleague.

Remember, the accuser is a child. Children sometimes lie. They sometimes exaggerate. And even when telling the truth, they can make for bad witnesses.

No one wants to believe that someone they respect, someone they have had in their homes, could sexually abuse a child.

But often the motives for ignoring such allegations are far more self-serving.

In the case of the Catholic Church, Penn State and many youth organizations, the first reaction is to circle the wagons and protect the reputation of the organization and its leaders.

A charge of child sex abuse will immediately result in questions such as, “Who was responsible for hiring this man?” or “Why didn’t his superiors know what was going on?”

For organizations that rely on charitable contributions, well, they are likely to suffer financially. Not only are donations likely to drop off, there are bound to be lawsuits, not only by the person making the allegation but others who will be convinced to come forward.

There will be newspaper stories, TV reports, and people demanding answers to questions that no one can really answer.

How could you let this happen? I posed a question like that Tuesday to a spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

“What specifically has the archdiocese changed in regards to procedures for handling reports of sexual abuse by the clergy that might have prevented the mistakes of the recent past?” I wrote, after she demanded that I place my questions in writing. “How would these changes have altered the problems noted in many news media accounts today?”

She responded with the following email: “The Archdiocese of Chicago has made great strides in awareness of this issue and the prevention of abuse. The archdiocese has always complied with the reporting laws, but since 2003 we have done fingerprinting and background checks on anyone paid or (who volunteers to work) in an archdiocesan ministry with children.

“The zero tolerance policy instituted in 2002 has changed the way we handle cases. Decisions are more rapid and lay people are involved in the evaluation of accusations.

“This archdiocese was the first to establish a victims assistance ministry. Today that ministry has touched more than 500,000 people with screening, training of adults and children in recognizing, resisting and reporting abuse and outreach to victims. We know that when people come forward, the abuse stops and we encourage victims to seek the help they need.”

The problem with that answer is that it does not address the current and past leaders of the archdiocese acting as apologists for accused priests or trying to intercede on their behalf after law enforcement came calling. Cardinal Francis George once wrote a letter on behalf of a priest who was convicted of sexual assault, seeking a lighter sentence.

Ministers are supposed to have a forgiving nature, so maybe that’s one reason church leaders often believe that sexual offenders will reform.

I posed another question to the Illinois attorney general’s office — “Are clergymen mandatory reporters of sex crimes in Illinois?”

I received an email saying that Illinois’ Abused and Neglected Child Reporting law states that “any member of the clergy having reasonable cause to believe that a child known to that member of the clergy in his or her professional capacity may be an abused child as defined (in this law) shall immediately report or cause a report to be made to the Department (of Children and Family Services).”

So how has that worked out? Has any member of the clergy ever been officially accused of violating that law?

People want to believe in simple solutions to complex problems. I do not.

Over decades as a newspaper reporter, I have covered dozens of stories about educators who were fired or paid to leave a school district under suspicion that they were sexual abusers. But no one would say that on the record.

“You know why we’re doing this,” school board members would say, using different words to imply the same thing. “If we said anything we could be sued. Our lawyers have told us not to say anything. But you can guess at what’s happening. We’re protecting our children.”

What about the children in the new school district that hires the terminated employee?

And in those school-related cases we’re not just talking a cover-up but a payoff — giving the employee a bundle of money to resign and avoid lawsuits and bad publicity.

If the Chicago Archdiocese had been smart enough to do that, it might have avoided all these negative news stories.

As for the children who are the victims, they end up with apologies and sometimes with cash.

Sorry you lost your innocence at the age of 10 or 11, here’s a few bucks.

Interesting that no one ever seems to understand just how awful that sounds.



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