Page after page of documents, released by the Archdiocese of Chicago – some of them heavily redacted – show a pervasive climate of sexual abuse by many priests, many of whom never received a slap on the wrist for egregious behavior involving untold numbers of minors, mostly boys.
Going back at least 40 years and mostly covering the tenures of Cardinals Joseph Bernardin and current head, Francis Cardinal George, the papers indicate an almost inescapable conclusion that both leaders knew abuses were widespread and prevalent.
This 1986 handwritten letter from a concerned parishioner to Cardinal Bernardin warns of instances when altar boys reported to their parents discovering Fr. Mark Holihan fondling other boys. Another document from a retired priest, Leo Kinsella refers to Fr. Holihan by the nickname of, “Happy Hands Holihan.”
Additionally, Fr. Kinsella tells the story of the 77-year old female cook working in the rectory: “Evidently BLANK does the laundry, and thinking that Mark was gone for the, day, went to his room to put the laundry away, and when she opened up the bedroom door, she discovered Mark in bed with a young boy.”
It should be made clear that the offending priests were in the minority – the bad apples. But they were apparently allowed to infect the good name of priests across the church because little was done – during this period of time — to catch, stop, and punish the offenders.
In a November 10, 1990 letter, a priest discusses a conversation he has had with then Cardinal Bernardin about an accused priest known as Fr. X: “We agreed that I would not indicate to Fr. X that the Cardinal was aware of anything, unless Fr. X asked me directly. The Cardinal also agreed that he would make no reference to this, unless Fr. X himself brought it up. Therefore, unless Fr. X himself raises the issue, neither the Cardinal nor I will give any indication that the Cardinal is aware of the charges.”
While there are numerous instances in the documents of priests being charged with sexually abusing children, it has yet to be determined is how much the leadership knew, and whether for decades the heads of the Chicago Archdiocese concealed the widespread abuse at the expense of innocent children.