On Nov. 18, the Archdiocese of Chicago will install a new archbishop — Blase J. Cupich, turning the page to a new chapter in the Catholic Church’s history in Chicago.
In some ways, Cardinal Francis George, whom Cupich will replace, ended another chapter in the Chicago Archdiocese’s history last week. With the release of thousands of pages of documents related to priests accused of sexually abusing children over a period of more than three decades, it’s a shameful chapter to be sure.
It’s painful for Catholics, some of whom still believe the release of decades-old information is somehow persecution-driven by anti-Catholic secular media. That’s nonsense.
It hurts not just because it reveals that church officials acted aggressively to cover up the ongoing scandal and shield priests from prosecution but because of the realization that some of these very priests accused of sexual abuse and assault lived among us. Most knew only their good side.
The case of Rev. David Braun, who ended his career at Mater Christi Church in North Riverside, is breathtaking in that documents appear to reveal that not only did church officials know about acts of sexual abuse 60 years ago, they had already created a system to obstruct justice and conceal such crimes.
Police reported allegations not to Braun’s pastor at the time, but to another pastor, who knew to call the Chancery office and set the wheels in motion to get the problem out of town within hours. After six months away from Chicago, Braun was back at another parish, where he later was accused of sexually abusing a child.
In the case of Joseph Fitzharris, who began his vocation as a priest at St. Louise de Marillac, church officials knew by the early 1970s that he had “a problem.” They were warned of it by his pastor.
Instead of acting, they placed him at a school where nearly a dozen people later said Fitzharris abused them as children. Even after he was convicted in a Cook County court of the criminal sexual abuse of a child, Fitzharris was allowed to continue to serve as a priest.
What did it take for him to finally get the heave-ho? An apparently illicit relationship with an adult woman; think about that.
To date, there are thousands and thousands of pages of documents that have been released regarding more than 60 Chicago-area priests accused of crimes against children. Simply because the Church successfully hid many of the allegations and shielded priests decades ago does not mean the deeds of both the priests and the Church that enabled them should be whitewashed.
What the revelations can do is provide people like Cupich an opportunity to right past wrongs and forge a new path, where the Church stands by members of its flock instead of feeding them to wolves.
Shining a light on past actions may be painful, but it is also highly revealing. Hopefully, the message is that such acts will no longer be tolerated. And if you do commit such crimes, you will be exposed and prosecuted to fullest extent of the law