CHICAGO — The Vatican was named Wednesday in a lawsuit that claims the Holy See ultimately was responsible for covering up child sexual abuse by a now-imprisoned Chicago priest when church officials overlooked complaints about abuse and kept him in a position to continue molesting children.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago on behalf of a woman whose son was molested by Father Daniel McCormack, is an attempt to "hold those most responsible for the global problem and the problem in this community to account in a way they have never been," said St. Paul, Minn.-based attorney Jeff Anderson.
McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church and a teacher at a Catholic school and was sentenced to five years in prison. In 2008, the Archdiocese of Chicago agreed to pay $12.6 million to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack. As part of that settlement, Cardinal Francis George also agreed to release a lengthy deposition and apologize to the public and each victim.
Anderson said the Archdiocese also agreed to release documents involving priests who had been credibly accused of abuse, but "not one file has been effectively produced so we can produce it to the public" and believes it's because the Archdiocese is following orders from the Vatican. In 2009, a Cook County judge granted the Archdiocese a protective order keeping portions of files private.
Marc Pearlman, another attorney involved in Wednesday's lawsuit, said it's possible some plaintiffs would not have agreed to the 2008 settlement without the promise from the Archdiocese to release the files.
A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese would not comment on Anderson's contention because it was not named in the suit.
The Vatican's U.S. attorney, Jeffrey Lena, referred questions about the documents to the Archdiocese but released a statement saying the lawsuit "is without any merit." He said the victim mentioned in the lawsuit had already received payment from the Archdiocese and "released all further claims" as part of the 2008 settlement.
Anderson said the settlement with Archdiocese did not specifically name the Vatican as a settling party.
This is not the first time Anderson has sued the Vatican. He also named the Holy See in cases filed in Wisconsin and Oregon. The Vatican has argued it is shielded from lawsuits as a sovereign nation, although Wednesday's lawsuit claims McCormack was a "direct agent" of the Vatican because he helped raise money for Peter's Pence, an annual collection for the Vatican.
Lena said the suit "rehashes the same tired theories already rejected by U.S. courts ... and importantly, the Holy See had no factual involvement in this matter whatsoever."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages but Anderson said its aim is "to require the Vatican to come clean" with the names of the offenders it knows about and the files kept on them.
"It is the men at the top who make decisions that require secrecy" from others in the Catholic Church, he said.
"Daniel McCormick is just one of many offenders who have been allowed to offend in secrecy," he said. "There won't be change at the bottom until there's change at the top."
Last month, the Vatican was served with court papers stemming from decades-old allegations of sexual abuse against a now-deceased priest at a Wisconsin school for the deaf. The lawsuit was filed last year in federal court on behalf of Terry Kohut, now of Chicago, claiming that Pope Benedict XVI and two other top Vatican officials knew about allegations of sexual abuse at St. John's School for the Deaf outside Milwaukee and called off internal punishment of the accused priest, the Rev. Lawrence Murphy.
Anderson also has a pending lawsuit against the Vatican in Oregon for a man who claims he was abused at his Catholic school in the 1960s.