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August 2, 2009

Archdiocese settles cases, releases deposition New settlements relate to cases from 1970s and 1980s

By Catholic New World staff

On July 21, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that it had reached settlements totaling $3.9 million with six survivors of sexual abuse involving four former priests. All of the cases involved abuse that happened between 1970 and 1986.

All priests involved in the settlements have been out of ministry for almost two decades.

They are Robert Becker (died in 1989), Norbert Maday (removed from ministry in 1993 and laicized), Russell Romano (resigned from ministry in 1991 and laicized) and Kenneth Ruge (removed from ministry in 1991 and died in 2002). The settlements were reached through mediation.

“It has long been the practice of the Archdiocese of Chicago to reach out to victims to try and resolve their claims without requiring them to go through lengthy court proceedings,” said Chancellor Jimmy Lago in a statement. “We believe that negotiation and mediation are the best, most compassionate ways to resolve these cases as it spares the survivors and their families the burdens and stresses of an extended legal process. Right now, these settlements are funded primarily through financial borrowing.”

Bishop Goedert deposed

As part of ongoing mediation, a 180-page deposition with now-retired Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Goedert also was released on July 21. (It is available through the archdiocesan Web site The deposition pertains to incidents that occurred while then- Father Goedert served as vicar for priests from July 1987 to September 1991. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was archbishop of Chicago at the time. Cardinal George was installed as archbishop in May 1997.

Certain portions of the deposition were redacted, or blacked out, before being released to the public. These redactions were agreed upon by the attorneys for the victims and attorneys for the archdiocese. The material redacted included the names of victims and other information that should not be publicized under Illinois law.

All of these decisions were discussed, reviewed and approved by retired Judge Stuart Nudelman, a special arbitrator. In the deposition, Bishop Goedert said that allegations of abuse against priests were investigated by the vicars for priests, and if determined to be true, priests were referred for treatment.

All cases that were required to be reported to civil authorities were reported, however priests were not mandated reporters under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act until 2003.

Since then much has changed in how the archdiocese handles child sex-abuse allegations. Currently, in all cases where the accuser is a minor child, priests are asked to step aside as soon as an allegation is made until a review is complete. This is also required where the accuser is no longer a minor child, but the safety of children may be threatened.

No promise of confidentiality is made between a priest and the vicar for priests regarding sexabuse issues. The parish in which the accused priest serves is informed and the archdiocese promptly notifies and cooperates with the civil authorities regarding the allegation. A priest is immediately removed from ministry after an allegation is substantiated.

Never moved priests

Archdiocesan officials have maintained that it was not the practice to move priest offenders from parish to parish. At the same time, however, priests were sometimes returned to parish ministry after treatment because archdiocesan leaders at that time relied upon opinions of forensic psychiatrists who believed that some offenders could be rehabilitated and returned to ministry with proper monitoring. This was the opinion of mental health experts around the country at the time referred to in Bishop Goedert’s deposition.

Today, it is believed that those who abuse minors are likely to offend again.

History of changes in policies and practices

The way the archdiocese handles allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by clergy changed significantly in 1992 when Cardinal Bernardin established written policies for the archdiocese for dealing with sexual-abuse allegations. He also created a Review Board, which remains active today, and created a position for a full-time administrator to handle any cases of misconduct.

Cardinal George strengthened these policies by instating a zerotolerance protocol in 2002, following the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas where all dioceses committed to the “Charter for Protecting Children and Young People” (see And in 2006, Cardinal George established the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.

“We’re far better than we were in terms of our approach right now,” said Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.

Today, clergy and staff are mandated to report allegations of abuse to the Illinois Department for Children and Family Services. Since 2002, any member of the clergy, lay employee or volunteer who has contact with children is required to attend Virtus training on how to identify abuse and must submit to a background check (see “Ongoing Protection”).

The office has also been expanded to offer referrals for victim assistance in other cases where children are at risk, such as family domestic violence situations or bullying.

“The reason we got into this business was horrific,” said Slattery. “If there is anything good that has come out of that it’s our ability to respond to children in broader society, who are at risk even more today,” Slattery said. “We have been able to extend our response beyond priest sex abuse.”

However, the whole is greater than its parts now, she said. “We really do have a holistic response to children at risk.”