Chicago Archdiocese to release priest sex abuse files under settlement with victims

Angel Santiago doesn’t want to see other children molested by a Catholic priest.

So Santiago, along with 11 other abuse victims, insisted a safeguard be written into a legal settlement with the Chicago Archdiocese that resulted in the creation of a system in which the Archdiocese is required to release the files of certain priests accused of sex abuse.

“As soon as a priest is determined to be credibly accused by the archdiocese … word goes out to the priest that they are subject to this protocol,” said lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents the victims.

“Then they have the opportunity to object. … If they don’t respond, the process goes forward. If they get their own lawyer and fight, we’ll see further delays and uncertainties, but we will be aggressive and fight hard,” said Anderson.

The Archdiocese will have 60-day window to raise any concerns about releasing files.

The disclosure requirement is part of an agreement finalized on Friday. It also includes an undisclosed financial settlement to be divided among the 12 victims.

The new protocol for releasing files will be applied retroactively, but only to other priests Anderson’s law firm has brought cases against.

“We’ve brought cases against 35 of the 65 priests on the archdiocese website who are credibly accused of abuse dating back to the 1950s,” said Anderson.

“Our hope is to broaden that, but for now this is what it is, there are limitations with what we can require the Archdiocese to do,” he said.

Santiago’s accused tormentor, former priest Joseph Fitzharris, who currently lives in Chicago, will receive a letter. Fitzharris has not been charged in the Santiago case, but the archdiocese has found abuse accusations against him to be credible.

“I’m not afraid anymore,” said Santiago, 44, who said he was abused as a 12-year-old at his Northwest Side parish.

Fitzharris could not be reached for comment.

Anderson, who noted that few of the accused priests were ever prosecuted because of statute of limitations laws, hopes to post newly disclosed files within 60 days on his website,

The Archdiocese issued a statement saying: “The settlement announced today confirms that this process works, and that attorneys need not put their clients through the ordeal of litigation.”

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