Clergy sexual abuse: Justice before forgiveness

Opinion: Columns

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By Patrick Navin

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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 (

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Reader Comments

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Gerard Ahrens  

Posted: January 23rd, 2019 6:27 PM

I was abused by a Jesuit here in Cincinnati at age 11. His name was recently released by the Jesuits Midwestern Province. We know about Bernardin here in Cincinnati where he was Archbishop before Chicago. He was an abuser himself while here, with his victim Steven Cook "recanting" AFTER getting a 4 Million dollar settlement just before he died of AIDS. Forgiveness? Justice? LOL.

Pat Navin  

Posted: January 23rd, 2019 7:09 AM

Mark Marren, I think there is almost no way out for the Church in the developed world at this point. As you know, in Ireland the Church is a shadow of its former self. The Irish citizenry elected a gay prime minister, voted to legalize gay marriage and even voted to legalize abortion, all issues opposed by the Church. The Church hierarchy has forfeited its moral authority in the developed world. I'm not sure they'll ever come completely clean because they can't come completely clean. It will bankrupt them. The recent revelation in Illinois -- 500 additional priests with credible accusations that had never been revealed -- illustrates the Church's predicament. The lawsuits from those cases will likely be enormous. And that's just one state in one country. Yes, they can go to second- and third-world countries and recruit new members (and increasingly competitive endeavor), but those new converts cannot generate the revenue stream needed to sustain the institution. I think the Church will limp along. It's a fate of its own making.

Pat Navin  

Posted: January 23rd, 2019 7:02 AM

Thank you, Mark Crawford. Subsequent to my initial publishing of the longer piece at, I found out that Bishop Goedert is alive and residing in the Cardinal's mansion on North State Parkway in Chicago. This man helped spread terror throughout the Archdiocese as Vicar for Priests and he's living in the mansion. As I have said to friends, if they're still arresting Nazi concentration camp guards, this guy should be brought in for crimes against humanity.

Mark Crawford  

Posted: January 23rd, 2019 6:03 AM

Patrick thank you for telling it like it is, you by no means are alone as bishops across our country have worked hard to protect known predators. I am reminded of the "coat of arms" each prelate himself designs as a statement of his office. The late Cardinal Cook of New York reads "Their can be no love without justice". Church bishops and cardinals, even today as they express contrition and remorse for abuse of minors are fighting rigorously against modification in laws that will instill accountability and consequences for those who abused or those who protected and hid such crimes from victims, the faithful and civil authorities. Now they want to say we can't go back and hold them accountable. Little has changed and their public carefully vetted public admissions have done nothing to bring about justice and reform. Time's Up!

Mark Marren from Bettystown, Co. Meath, Ireland  

Posted: January 23rd, 2019 5:34 AM

Pat, I read your unabridged article and found it powerful. This shorter version is nearly as devastating. Thanks for your courage and honesty. The Church should comply with the law everywhere in the world that has due process and a commitment to Justice. If they did so, they would be in a position to extend pastoral care to those they've turned in for investigation and trial. Expelling these priests once the statute of limitations has expired facilitates and protects their continued ability to do untold harm in future. It means protecting the illusion of the Church's holiness at the expense of the lives and psyches of children. They are dispensing with their own moral authority and the only reason the faithful turn to them.

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