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Catholic religious order opens abuse files

NEW YORK — A Roman Catholic religious order released an unusually candid report Tuesday, outlining how its leaders failed for decades to stop sex abuse in its schools and other ministries.

The Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, which spans 10 Midwestern states, asked experts in clergy sex abuse to provide a full accounting of abuse by examining all the order’s records. Advocates for victims said it was the broadest attempt at transparency by any part of the American church.

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The auditors found the Province of St. Joseph hid abuse from parents and police, kept offenders in ministry long after their misconduct was known, and spent far more on defense attorneys than on helping victims. Some friars showed compassion to victims. But they were thwarted when the order and the insurance company that covered settlement to victims allowed lawyers to take a win-at-all-costs strategy in civil lawsuits that was unnecessary and undermined the moral standing of the church, according to the findings.

‘‘For much of the history of the province, we have failed victims,’’ said the Rev. John Celichowski, the order’s leader. ‘‘We realize it will take years and many concrete gestures to restore the trust we lost.’’

Much of the detail in the report was previously known. In 1992, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on abuse at a boy’s boarding school that the order runs in Mount Calvary, Wis. The order was compelled to publicly confront the issue for the first time and hired a law firm to investigate and issue findings.

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