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Activists draw attention to accusations involving 3 deceased priests

Three deceased Archdiocese of Chicago priests accused of sexually abusing minors were the focus of anti-abuse activists’ scrutiny Sunday that also drew attention to protocols church officials used to withhold their identities until last week.

Abuse victims’ attorneys released thousands of pages of archdiocese files last Tuesday detailing allegations against 30 priests accused of sexually abusing minors. In the files, the archdiocese was for the first time identifying three of them: Kenneth Brigham, Emmanuel Pallikunnen and Thomas Kelly.

The three priests were the only ones in the files without church-substantiated allegations against them but were the subject of settlements paid out by the archdiocese.

Church officials cite a long-standing policy of not identifying priests accused of abuse after their death. Against the archdiocese’s wishes, Kelly’s name was reported in the Tribune in 2005. But the others remained secret. Kelly died in 1990.

On Sunday, victims’ advocates encouraged anyone who might have been abused by any of the newly identified priests to come forward.

“Since there's been no attention paid to Father Brigham or Father Pallikunnen, others who were hurt by them have yet to come forward and get help,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, standing outside Holy Name Cathedral on Sunday.

The confidential church files released as part of a court settlement illustrated how the nation's third-largest archdiocese failed to protect children from abusive priests and made slow progress toward reforms.

Of the many reform-minded protocols instituted by the archdiocese during the past 22 years, one established in 2002 excluded the review of abuse allegations involving deceased priests.

“They see their role as protecting minors, and if the priest is deceased, there is obviously no risk,” according to a September 2002 church memo. “Also, it is difficult to assess these cases if there is no accused to respond.”

The church said allegations against Brigham and Pallikunnen surfaced after those revisions were made. According to the documents, Brigham died in 2006 and Pallikunnen died in 1978.

But letters in Brigham’s file show that in 1972 he was asked to resign for unspecified health reasons from Our Lady of Perpetual Help following a paid trip to the Bahamas and a month of convalescence in Mississippi. The priest personnel board called it a “complex situation.”

Also, in December 1981, Brigham was ordered not to pursue his hope of adopting a child, according to a handwritten timeline in his file. Other memos and letters referenced allegations of boys frequently visiting the rectory of St. Columbanus church where he served between 1980 and 1992.

There was no documentation saying that any of those allegations were investigated or substantiated.

Brigham’s file also includes an allegation made in 1994 that the priest molested a 17-year-old in the rectory of St. Clotilde parish, where the priest served in the 1960s.

The board, following a conversation in which the accuser mistakenly referred to his abuser’s first name as “John,” closed the case several months later “based on questionable identification of Father Brigham.”

The victim returned in 2002 to appeal the church’s finding. But the case was not reopened.

In February 2005, Cardinal Francis George wrote to the bishop of Las Vegas where Brigham planned to retire, certifying Brigham as a priest in good standing “who has not manifested behavioral problems in the past that would indicate he might deal with minors in an inappropriate manner.”

According to the documents, the first allegation against Pallikunnen, a Vincentian priest from India, surfaced after he died in 1978. A woman came forward in 2006 to say Pallikunnen had abused her in the 1960s at St. Mary in Buffalo Grove. Pallikunnen served in the Chicago Archdiocese from 1955 until 1966, but no documents in the file confirm that Pallikunnen served at the Buffalo Grove parish.

mbrachear@tribune.com

Twitter @TribSeeker

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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