By Rachel Zoll and Tammy Webber of Associated Press

Chicago

Settlement documents recently released by the attorneys for the Archdiocese and the victims of abuse, show how the Archdiocese covered up the histories of its sexually abusive priests, moving them from parish to parish to ‘eliminate’ the growing problem. High ranking members of the church knew about the priests’ disturbing histories of sexual abuse, yet they continued to put more children’s safety at risk, according to thousands of pages of information identified in the documents.

Questions are arising about Cardinal Francis George’s handling of the allegations of sex abuse after reforms were adopted by the church. In 2002, U.S. Bishops made a pledge to “keep all accused priests out of ministry,” and although the incidents described in the documents all took place before George became archbishop, the victims came forward with their accusations after George was in charge. "The issue is not when the abuse happened; the issue is what they did once it was reported," said Chicago attorney Marc Pearlman.

Despite the advice of his council members, George did not immediately remove Rev. Joseph R. Bennett who had been accused of molesting boys and girls several decades earlier although recent evidence of allegations surfaced. Instead, George had him monitored by a priest who was one of Bennett’s close friends. Bennett was eventually forced out of the ministry. George is currently waiting for permission from Pope Francis to retire.

The documents show a case from 1979 where a 13-year old boy accused a priest of raping and then threatening him at gunpoint if he disclosed the abuse. The church removed the priest for treatment and promised the boy’s parents that he would not be reinstated. However, that same priest, Rev. William Cloutier, was returned to ministry one year later where further allegations of sexual abuse followed until he left the church in 1993. According to the documents, the Archdiocese took no action against Cloutier because he “sounded repentant”. The documents also show evidence of priests being moved, sometimes four times, in order to cover up sexual abuse scandals. In January, the Archdiocese released the following statement:

"The Church and its leaders have acknowledged repeatedly that they wished they had done more and done it sooner, but now are working hard to regain trust, to reach out to victims and their families, and to make certain that all children and youth are protected.”

It remains to be seen what sort of protective measures the church plans to take and whether thorough, church-specific background checks will be performed on upcoming and current members of the clergy. To read the full MSN story, click here.