The Chicago Archdiocese does not publicly identify deceased priests accused of sexual abuse. Here’s why one suburban deacon is trying to change that.
The first time it happened, the priest offered Terry Neary a cookie.
Neary, then an eighth grade student, was working an after-school job in the rectory of St. Ethelreda in Chicago. He followed the Roman Catholic priest into the kitchen, where, Neary has alleged, the 75-year-old man sexually abused him that day and a few more times in 1971.
The Archdiocese of Chicago later determined the abuse was “possible," according to its own records, but it has not added the priest’s name to a list on its website that identifies nearly 80 clergy members believed to have abused children.
That’s because of a controversial church policy that doesn’t require full investigations into allegations made against deceased priests. By the time Neary first reported his abuse to the archdiocese in 2001, the priest, the Rev. William R. Leyhane, had been dead for two decades.
“I knew (the abuse) was wrong, and I was just successful in trying not to think about it, so I put it way in the back of my head,” Neary, now a 62-year-old deacon at St. Isidore Parish in Bloomingdale, said during a recent interview.
The archdiocese has defended its longstanding policy, noting that deceased priests no longer pose a risk to children and can’t respond to accusations that might be false. But advocacy groups, abuse survivors and former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who began a probe into clergy abuse last year, have criticized the practice, saying it re-traumatizes victims and fails to hold church leadership accountable.
"Failing to investigate deceased or resigned clergy ignores both the impact such a decision has on survivors seeking closure and that an investigation might lead other survivors to come forward,” Madigan wrote in a December status report before leaving office. “Failing to investigate also makes it impossible to determine whether other clergy, including those who are alive and involved with the church, helped conceal the abuse.”
Madigan’s successor, Kwame Raoul, is continuing the investigation but has provided few updates about its progress. Raoul and Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich met behind closed doors in August to discuss the probe, representatives for both parties confirmed. The move drew criticism from two local advoc...