CHICAGO — The Archdiocese of Chicago said Wednesday it will release 6,000 pages of documents detailing what it knows about decades of clergy sex abuse allegations and how it handled them, calling it an effort to ‘‘bring healing to the victims and their families.’’
Attorneys for the victims, who have fought for years to hold the Roman Catholic Church accountable for concealing crimes and sometimes reassigning priests to jobs where they continued to molest children, said they expected to receive the documents Wednesday afternoon and make them public next week.
The nation’s third-largest archdiocese agreed to release complaints, personnel documents, and other files for about 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations as part of settlements with victims.
‘‘Until there is public disclosure and transparency . . . there is no way people can learn about it and make sure it does not happen again,’’ said attorney Marc Pearlman, who has helped represent about 200 victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area.
Bishop Francis Kane began a news conference by apologizing for the abuse. He said church officials at first failed even to recognize that child sex abuse was a serious crime.
But he said there were no cover-ups, even in cases where accused priests may have been only reassigned.
‘‘It was just they didn’t realize that it was such a terrible thing, and so I think they did relocate people, but it was not intended as a way of covering up things,’’ he said.
Archdiocese attorney John O’Malley warned that the documents will be ‘‘upsetting.’’
‘‘The information is painful; it’s difficult to read,’’ O’Malley said.
The documents are similar to recent disclosures by other dioceses in the United States that showed how the church shielded priests and failed to report child sex abuse to authorities. Church officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988 and none occurred after 1996.
Cardinal Francis George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, did not attend the news conference. But he released a letter of apology to parishioners Sunday that said all incidents were reported to civil authorities and resulted in settlements.
In fact, the archdiocese has paid about $100 million to settle sex abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was a parish priest and a teacher at a Catholic school.
Files on McCormack will not be among those released; they have been sealed by a judge because of pending court cases, Pearlman said. He said he and St. Paul attorney Jeff Anderson will re-issue the McCormack documents that they have.
Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests against whom the archdiocese said it has credible allegations of abuse. That is because settlements that required the disclosures involved just those 30 priests, Pearlman said.
O’Malley said the archdiocese will review and develop a process to release documents on the other cases.
Victims and their lawyers said publicizing the documents will help victims and the church heal and move forward.
Peter Isely, Midwest director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said it is important for all Chicago- area Catholics to read the until-now ‘‘hidden’’ documents.
‘‘It’s physical, material evidence and truth,’’ he said. ‘‘I can’t tell you how important this is to victims of trauma. . . . It’s something that can’t be denied and wished away.’’