Victims of Abuse by Religious Order Priests Say Their Claims Fall Through the Cracks

When Larry Antonsen decided to report a priest who sexually abused him during high school, he believed the Archdiocese of Chicago was the right place to go.

Mr. Antonsen and his wife were lifelong churchgoers who sent their children to Sunday school and counted themselves as members of a parish in the archdiocese. The priest Mr. Antonsen was accusing had spent 14 years working at Chicago-area Catholic high schools.

But Mr. Antonsen, who is now 72, said reporting the allegations dropped him into a maze of church bureaucracy, in which his accusations were passed from one office to another before being quietly set aside.

The reason: The priest in question happened to be an Augustinian — one of dozens of religious orders that are overseen not by bishops, but by religious superiors in regions around the country and in Rome. Mr. Antonsen said archdiocesan officials told him to take his complaint to the Augustinians.

“They said because it was a religious order, they didn’t handle it,” Mr. Antonsen said.

Jesuits, Franciscans, Benedictines, Augustinians: the names are iconic, their founders immortalized by sainthood, their members often bound together by vows of poverty and obedience.

But when a priest or brother in a religious order is accused of abuse, victims and advocacy groups say their accusations are often mishandled because they are caught between separate institutions within the ch...

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