Ahead of a Wednesday release of historical files on sexual abuse by Chicago-area priests, parishioners across the area found a message from the head of Chicago’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese in their Sunday programs explaining the move.
The pamphlet penned by Cardinal Francis George outlined the church's plan to go public with files on sexual abuse, telling area faithful it was necessary for maintaining transparency within the archdiocese.
“Publishing for all to read the actual records of these crimes raises transparency to a new level,” George wrote in his letter according to the Sun-Times. “It will be helpful, we pray, for some, but painful for many.”
Speaking before news crews Sunday, George said, "It's always important to tell the truth," noting that the instances of misconduct happened in the '80s before he was installed as cardinal, according to ABC Chicago. "I thought I better put it in some perspective, so that was the purpose of the letter."
The church is handing over the files per the terms of settlements stemming from lawsuits against the archdiocese. Plaintiffs’ attorneys had been seeking the files for seven years, the Sun-Times reports.
The files pertain to 30 priests and 40 victims. George, who was appointed Chicago's archbishop in 1997, insists he never protected any priest that he knew to be an abuser. Of the Rev. Daniel McCormack, George said he "had a reputation as a dedicated priest and an effective pastor."
McCormack pleaded guilty in 2007 to charges involving sexual abuse of five boys; according to the National Catholic Reporter, McCormack has also been the subject of multiple lawsuits leading to "tens of millions" of dollars in settlements by the church.
The Reporter also notes George said the abuse in Chicago "followed the now well-known national trends" in the '70s and '80s, emphasizing with underlined Italics in his letter that the files concern cases that "took place years ago and many of the priests involved are dead."
While some parisioners who spoke to the Sun-Times said the release of the files was necessary to move forward and bring people back to the church, members of the Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) handed out leaflets of their own outside Holy Name Cathedral.
SNAP activists called George's message "self-serving" and asked area Catholics to ignore it.
"Please get the information directly from the source and not from someone who is trying to protect themselves and the institution for which they work," Kate Bochte of SNAP told ABC.
The full report is set to be released Jan. 15 and will become available to the public about a week later.