Ex-Priest, "I Got Away With Murder"
October 4, 2002
By Kate N. Grossman Staff Reporte
The first e-mail arrived at Bill Cloutier's brick Skokie
home two weeks ago.
At first, the former priest was scared--yet another boy was
accusing him of sexual abuse. Then he considered ignoring
it. Finally, the ailing 53-year-old decided to let his accuser
have his say.
"If I don't confront it, who will?" said Cloutier,
a soft-spoken man with thinning brown hair. "I think
it's important for me, for peace of mind for those I did victimize."
Over the last two weeks, Cloutier, in a bout of honesty unusual
among accused priests, has poured out his soul to his accuser,
29-year-old Matthew Dalton.
He says he doesn't remember abusing Dalton and says he doesn't
know if it happened, but acknowledged taking advantage of
three teens. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago knew
about those incidents, which happened while he was at St.
Damian's in Oak Forest in 1979. Cloutier was sent to a residential
treatment center for six months and to therapy for years.
"I got away with murder," said Cloutier, who resigned
from the priesthood in 1993 after he was removed from a Skokie
church. He now runs his own computer consulting business.
In his e-mails and in an interview, Cloutier took aim at
the archdiocese for returning him to a parish after the first
abuse allegations, and castigated himself for going into the
priesthood at all.
"I realized that underneath, it was all false,"
Cloutier said Thursday.
Shortly after he resigned, he says he remembered being abused
by a priest when he was growing up on the South Side. That
experience, he says he now realizes, distorted his perception
of what the priesthood was all about.
"What I'd been doing was replicating the pattern of
the guy who abused me," he said, adding that he thinks
he probably became a priest to wield power over others, as
his abuser did over him.
Dalton, who says he recently recovered suppressed memories
of abuse when he was a pre-teen, lives in Berwyn and owns
an Internet business. He's married with two children.
Dalton says the e-mail correspondence has helped him understand
Cloutier, who he says fondled him three times when he was
an altar boy.
"I want to expose the system that covered up his actions.
And beyond that, [Cloutier] is still out there. He needs to
be identified so parents know who he is," Dalton said.
Dalton plans to file a civil lawsuit against the archdiocese
and Cloutier in the next few weeks.
Cloutier landed at Dalton's parish, St. Peter, after the
six months of treatment and four years as chaplain at the
University of Illinois at Chicago.
Cloutier says he resisted the move, appealing directly to
the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin himself.
"I should not have been assigned," Cloutier said.
"I said it was safer to stay out of parish work."
Cloutier said his plea fell on deaf ears--but there is no
way to confirm that. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said
he was "not aware of anyone being sent to a parish who
didn't want to be there." He also said archdiocese staff
involved with those decisions in 1985 do not remember Cloutier
resisting his assignment.
Cloutier, who has had no contact with the archdiocese since
1993, says he supports the policy passed by the U.S. Conference
of Catholic Bishops this year that a priest who has sexually
abused a child would be removed from ministry forever. He
also said he's satisfied with the archdiocese's handling of
these matters now.
"It was kept secret in the past to protect the church
and to protect the priest himself," Cloutier said. "During
that time, kids barely came next."
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