The latest spate of revelations regarding Catholic dioceses in Illinois protecting and hiding sexually abusive clergy is, sadly, nothing new.
In January 1976, an associate pastor at Ascension Church in Oak Park, Fr. Richard Barry “Doc” Bartz, molested me during an overnight ski trip to Wisconsin. My incident with Bartz, which I reported to the Archdiocese in 1992, was not the only case of sexual abuse in Bartz’s file.
My experience dealing with this event and with the Church is a rather long, sordid story, but the short version is that I ultimately reported this incident in May 1992 at the urging of a friend who is a priest. The unsatisfactory nature of the process led to an exchange of letters with Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, then the prelate of the Archdiocese of Chicago. In November of that year, the Cardinal and I had a private meeting to discuss my incident with Bartz, as well as to review a report Bernardin had forwarded to me, “The Cardinal’s Commission on Sexual Misconduct with Minors,” a policy document on the handling of abuse complaints that the Cardinal had approved in June 1992.
Bernardin may have been well-intentioned, but I discovered he had a massive blind spot when it came to his brethren in the priesthood. His policy failed a crucial test: nowhere in the new policy was it required that substantiated reports of clergy sexual abuse of minors be turned over to law enforcement or prosecutors.
Near the end of our hour together in his office, the Cardinal began talking about “forgiveness” and “healing.” He spoke eloquently about these subjects for several minutes. At some point, I interrupted him and told him I believed he was omitting a crucial step on the way to forgiveness: justice.
I noted that neither Bartz nor the vast majority of criminally predatory priests had ever faced justice, and that the Church actively worked to ensure that outcome. I reminded him that before forgiveness, there must be justice, and that without justice, there can be no forgiveness.
As we parted, I hoped I had made an impact on the Cardinal — that I was able, in some small way, to offer insight into the minds of those who had been abused.
When the Chicago Archdiocese was finally forced to release its files on Diocesan priests facing credible claims of abuse in 2014, I discovered I had made no impact at all. In fact, one year after our meeting, the Cardinal had overruled the recommendations of his own layperson oversight board — the board he created with much fanfare in 1992 — and ordered reduced monitoring protocols on Fr. Bartz.
Just as shocking was a note-to-file by then-Vicar for Priests, Bishop Raymond Goedert, in August 1987 literally celebrating the fact that a report that Bartz had criminally sexually assaulted a minor was not being forwarded to legal authorities.
By January 2002, the dam burst in Boston, thanks to the relentless work of the Spotlight investigative team at the Boston Globe. All across the country, survivors of clergy sexual abuse were stepping forward with their horror stories.
At that point, I decided to go public with my story. I spoke with a reporter at the Chicago Tribune and shared my 1992 correspondence with the Cardinal as well as my contemporaneous notes from the period. On June 20, 2002, Tribune reporters Todd Lighty and Monica Davey bylined a story that included Bartz’s name as a priest facing multiple counts of abuse. The story included an on-the-record quote from me. Four days later, Bartz resigned from the priesthood.
Bartz and the vast majority of other credibly-accused priests, including three of his classmates from the ordination class of 1974, have never faced criminal charges for their actions. The Church succeeded in hiding and stalling their cases long enough that the statute of limitations expired, and then washed its hands of them. They’re not required to report as sex offenders. No one is monitoring them.
If it’s true that “time heals all wounds,” I would say that I am healed. I was healed long ago. But that doesn’t mean I forgive Bartz, and I suspect many survivors of clergy sexual abuse are also unable to forgive.
Forgiveness follows justice. And for many abused by priests, there has been no justice.
For a longer, more detailed version of this article, see “The Class of ’74: Where are they now?” at Medium.com. (https://medium.com/@pfnavin/the-class-of-74-where-are-they-now-231861244b2d).