Archdiocese of Chicago coat of arms

Archdiocese of Chicago coat of arms Wikimedia Commons

And so it’s Chicago’s turn to have its documents on sexual abuse put on public display. “We realize the information included in these documents is upsetting,” said the country’s third largest archdiocese in a statement. “It is painful to read. It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be.”

But of course it is the Church we know — an institution where some adults in positions of authority sexually abused minors in their charge and the higher-ups for years did what they could to shield the abusers. To be sure, abusers can be found in all institutions that work with minors, and it is not uncommon for the superiors to behave similarly, to protect against lawsuits and disrepute.

But the Catholic Church is a special case, even among religious bodies. Consider the following letter that the current archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, wrote in 2002 to the Rev. Norbert Maday, then serving a lengthy prison sentence in Wisconsin for molesting two altar boys.

Dear Norbert,

I thank you for your kind greetings on my birthday. Your thoughtfulness took me by surprise, but I am glad to get a personal note from you. I try to keep up with you through the Vicars for Priests.

We have tried, as you know, a number of avenues to see if your sentenced [sic] can be reduced or might be reduced or parole be given early. So far, we have not had any success, but I personally hope that you will not lose hope.

We’re approaching Lent, and you’ll have a very special place in my prayers as we approach that season of penance. Again, I’m very grateful that you wrote.

Fraternally yours in Christ,

It would it be very strange if the principal of a public high school wrote such a letter to a teacher who had been sent to prison for abusing a student. High school principals have — or should have — nothing like the relationship a bishop has with his priests.

When George wrote the letter, Maday remained a priest of the archdiocese of Chicago, and thus his spiritual son. Five years earlier, when Maday’s mother died, the governor of Wisconsin was persuaded to let the body be transported to the prison so the priest could pay his respects — and George wrote to the governor to thank him for his act of charity.

In due course, George changed his mind about Maday, who never owned up to his guilt. The priest was defrocked in 2007 and after being released from prison last summer, the archdiocese forswore all responsibility for him.

As appalling as it is that the priest-bishop relationship should have rendered bishops — again and again — more sympathetic to the perpetrators than to the victims of sexual abuse, there is something wonderful about these ties that bind the Church’s leadership community. They are familial ties.

But as in natural families, they limit what can be expected when it comes to reporting bad behavior. For that reason, the rules must be cut and dried, and beyond the discretionary judgment of the bishops. Even today, after more than a decade of putting rules and regulations into place, they cannot be depended upon to judge their priests objectively. Not all of them. Not all the time.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service

7 Comments

  1. How many Catholics are still looking to Cardinal Francis George for spiritual guidance?

    “It is not the Church we know or the Church we want to be” What? This man should be selling used cars. But, what else can he say? The gig is up!

  2. Catholicism is about as close to Satanism as it can get. But Satanism’s is more honest about what they represent; Catholicism is less as it just cloaks itself in goodness.

  3. Do you say that just about Catholics or all religion, Edgy? I’d remind you of a quote by Marx “Religion is the opiate of the people”. He certainly was right on that one wasn’t he? Jesus said asmuch as well, though most people don’t bother to acknowledge that fact. Personally, I’m fed up with the hypocrisy of the church, Christian, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist et. al. Preach the words of Jesus about caring for the poor, sick, in prison then do the exact opposite! Hypocrisy in action!

  4. And the tragic part is that the sex abuse and cover up within the church hierarchy throughout the world is still going on to this day. Cardinals and bishops are still not removing accused predator clergy, and they are still not reporting to law enforcement. Their so called “zero tolerance” policy is not being followed by the bishops who created it. They don’t have to, because there is no punishment to force the bishops to change their ways of protecting their image and the institution rather than protecting children.

    This past week in Geneva, the UN interrogations of Vatican officials showed just how much corruption is still kept secret. The Vatican officials claimed they are powerless over child predator priests. And yet the next day the Vatican admitted to defrocking 400 priests for child sex abuse in a two year period.
    The Vatican is NOT powerless over child predator priests or defrocking bishops and cardinals who cover up these horrific crimes against innocent kids. Until high ranking church officials are held accountable by outside law enforcement for their crimes against humanity, nothing will change and children are still not safe within this archaic secret institution.

    Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever. So let’s hope that anyone who may have knowledge or may have been harmed by anyone in the Chicago Archdiocese, will find the courage to come forward and contact law enforcement, no matter how long ago it happened.
    Silence is not an option anymore, it only hurts and by speaking up there is a chance for healing, exposing the truth, and therefore protecting others.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511, SNAPJudy@gmail.com
    “SNAP” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests,

  5. Pope Benedict took this problem very seriously. Hundreds of abuser-priests, almost 400 of them, were defrocked, fired, no-nonsense, on his watch.

    But Pope Francis’s motto? “Who am I to judge?”

    The 800-pound gorilla in the cathedral — homosexuality — has got him tip-toeing and tap-dancing, when he should be flat-out doing his job, no-nonsense, like Benedict did.

    We need a new Pope, folks. I mean right Now. You know it’s true.

  6. The letter quoted here, as written, is not one that most people would have sent to someone they knew to have been a child abuser. It certainly appears the archbishop thought Maday was innocent.

    And that very neatly coincides with one of the themes that’s consistently presented itself in the Church’s reaction to this worldwide child-abuse scandal, which has been going on for well over 10 years now. The hierarchs, for the most part, genuinely think that neither the abusers, nor they, have done anything wrong. They consider this scandal an attack upon God’s Holy Church by the Forces of Darkness.

    Occasionally the Church might admit that some abuse happened, but if it did, the abusers were coerced … either by the victims themselves, or by the Devil. But most of the time the Church prefers to think no abuse happened at all … as far as they’re concerned it’s a packet of lies, drummed up by “victims” who are just trying to extort money out of them; or it’s an illusion constructed by Satan and his willing minions in the mass media (or any number of other assorted bogeymen).

    Yes, it’s a delusional mindset, but when you’re faced with revelations such as these, in which one sees the Church willingly helped abusive clergy avoid prosecution and happily stood up for them even if they’d been tried and convicted, it’s difficult to explain in any other way.

    Unfortunately the hierarchs are going to have to be forced to part with this delusion they’ve woven for themselves over the years. Because they aren’t going to just let go of it, on their own. It’ll be up to the laity to break them of it. But sadly, I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

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