CHICAGO — A prominent attorney filed lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Chicago Tuesday alleging Father John Smyth — long one of the Chicago area’s most prominent priests — sexually abused a boy while he was in charge of Maryville Academy.
Smyth died in April, but previously ran Maryville Academy for more than 30 years and served as the leader of Notre Dame College Prep in Niles.
Attorney Jeff Anderson filed the lawsuit on behalf of 29-year-old Clarence George Jr., who used his own name rather than “John Doe,” as abuse victims typically do. It’s the first lawsuit filed against Smyth, according to Anderson.
“I decided to use my name in the lawsuit because I didn’t feel like I wanted to hide in secrecy anymore,” George said.
In the lawsuit, George alleges Smyth “sexually abused him on multiple occasions,” and accuses the archdiocese of “hiding and not disclosing” information about the alleged child predator as he led the residence for kids who couldn’t live at home.
“Part of my healing and part of me overcoming what happened to me is to be honest and to let people know that this is a problem, and that this is something I’ve dealt with for a very long time,” George said.
Smyth was revered as a pious leader and a champion for children who gave up a chance to play pro basketball to become a priest. He started at Maryville in the 1960s, becoming the executive director in 1970, and holding the position until it closed in 2004.
George says Fr. Smyth used his revered status to prey on children.
“His approach was very soft-spoken, its wasn’t aggressive, so it was very easy for me at the time to deem him as someone I could trust, someone I could really talk to and confide in,” George said.
Multiple people accuse Smyth of abuse in the lawsuit, including George.
Also on Tuesday, Anderson revealed that he has settled 160 clergy abuse cases with the archdiocese for more than $80 million.
Anderson says the Smyth case shows the same pattern in which accused priests were not removed from environments in which they could abuse children.
“Smyth was superintendent there for decades and was viewed as an iconic figure who had mentored athletes and kids,” Anderson said. “At that time was thus given safe harbor by those around him.”
Smyth died at age 84 last April. For George, it means Smyth never had to face his accusers.
“I felt like he had gotten away without being confronted, in a sense on what it is he had done,” George said.
The archdiocese told the Chicago Tribune that it won’t comment on the lawsuit, but that it’s investigation of Smyth is ongoing.