By Mary Cirincione and Ramsen Shamon
In an attempt to give his successor as clean a slate as possible, Cardinal Francis George voluntarily released documentation surrounding decades worth of sex abuse Thursday morning. Archbishop-Designate Blase Cupich will assume authority over the Chicago Archdiocese on Nov. 18, at which point George’s 17-year term will end.
“We are committed to transparency with the people we serve,” George said in a news release issued Thursday. “We cannot change the past but we hope we can rebuild trust through honest and open dialogue. Child abuse is a crime and a sin. The Archdiocese of Chicago is concerned first and foremost with bringing healing to abuse victims.
The Archdiocese posted nearly 15,000 documents pertaining to claims involving 36 Chicago- area priests on its website, writing that each priest had “at least one substantiated allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.” The mass of documents highlights the extent of sexual abuse claims over a 50-year period and speaks to the Archdiocese’s awareness of what was taking place in parishes and rectories throughout Chicago and its suburbs.
John O’Malley, special counsel to the archdiocese, told NBC 5 Chicago that the timing of the release was intentional: “Cardinal George wanted it finished on his watch.”
Evanston native James Ray was among the 36 priests against whom repeated claims of sexual abuse of minors were documented in the massive release of records. Ordained in 1975, Ray is alleged to have molested at least three males between the ages of 10 and 18 during the 1970s and 1980s. Records kept by the Archdiocese describe Ray’s alleged affinity for having young boys “sit on his lap which over time led to him giving them back rubs that eventually went lower…The back rubs became mutual and also led to mutual masturbation.”
According to the records released, the molestation acts took place while Ray served as associate pastor at St. Anastasia Parish in Waukegan, a position he held until 1982. Ray was then appointed associate pastor at St. Peter Damian Parish in Bartlett, where he served for seven years until he was transferred to Transfiguration Parish in Wauconda. Records show that the Archdiocese was aware of the alleged abuse as early as 1989, at which point it drafted well-defined contractual protocols meant to keep Ray from having unchaperoned contact with minors. Once the allegations became public knowledge in 1991, the Archdiocese faced pressure to remove Ray from his post, barred him from parish life, and placed him in administrative ministry at Catholic Charities. Ray resigned as a Catholic priest in 2009 and was laicized in 2012, records show.
Documents show that despite signed agreements in 1989 and 1990 between Ray and diocesan leadership, Ray appears to have disobeyed direct orders to avoid contact with children. The Archdiocese, however, had placed Ray at Transfiguration Parish after allegations were brought to its attention. And Transfiguration had a corresponding school, therefore enabling contact between Ray and young people.
In one of the documents released, a concerned parishioner and father of three praised Ray as “a wonderful man of faith.” In a 1991 letter to George’s predecessor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, the father wrote that he and his children were “deeply hurt and confused” by Ray’s removal. “If the charges about Father Jim were indeed true, then I resent the fact that he was placed in a situation that could have put my children at risk and caused great harm to him as well. If the charges against Father Jim were false, then every effort should have been made to clear his name and to stand up for what is right.” The father’s name was redacted.
The documents show that the following year, Bernardin wrote to the Rev. Patrick O’Malley regarding Ray’s status: “[Ray] is a good priest and he will be a good priest for a long time to come. However, Fr. Ray did something that puts children at risk. That is a fact. No one knows this better than he does. I’m quite proud of the way he is progressing.”
The records demonstrate that Ray was cooperative with the Archdiocese overall, a point made repeatedly by diocesan leadership. In a 1992 letter to Ray, the Rev. O’Malley wrote: “You personally have been working strongly at your recovery and have been observing your protocol very well. I personally think that this is a good sign for the future.”
In a transcript from a Sept. 10, 2008, interview conducted by the Archdiocese, Ray denied having sexual contact with children. Responding to questioning surrounding a particular allegation, Ray said that “the person who made the accusation was not a child. He was over 18 so I’m not a pedophile… and basically it was backrubs that went below the belt, but [I] never had anything with anyone younger. I would never touch a child inappropriately.”
Last January, the Chicago Archdiocese released records about a separate set of 30 former priests. The Archdiocese announced Thursday that upon release of this second batch of documents, it has now shared all documentation on closed sex abuse cases. Cardinal George did not release records pertaining to two open cases: The Rev. Edward Maloney’s case is active on appeal within the Catholic Church and the Rev. Daniel McCormack’s records have been sealed due to an active lawsuit.
Provided documentation does not include details about legal settlements for the victims. In January, The Chicago Tribune reported Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane as saying that the Chicago Archdiocese had paid sex abuse victims more than $100 million to date.
Requests for further comment regarding today’s release were declined. A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago said only, “This is part two,” in reference to the January release.