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Survivor Narratives

Carlos Peralta

Father Carlos Peralta, an order priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco, arrived in the Archdiocese of Chicago from Peru in 1998 to minister to the expanding Spanish-speaking community of Saint John Bosco in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood. What his new parishioners didn’t know was that for years Peralta had been shuffled across South America by his superiors in the Salesian order, leaving behind him a trail of allegations of sexual abuse of children. Supplied by the Salesians with a letter falsely attesting to his good character, Peralta was welcomed to Chicago by the archdiocese, where he settled into his new role. Because of years of cover ups by church authorities spanning the Western Hemisphere, Peralta would once again be in a position to sexually abuse children entrusted to his care.

It took less than 18 months for Peralta to strike again. In May 1999, the archdiocese and Salesians received credible allegations that Peralta had sexually abused at least three children. Neither the archdiocese nor the Salesians informed law enforcement. Instead, they kept the allegations secret from authorities for more than two months, quietly removing Peralta from public ministry and placing him on administrative leave. It was only in July 1999 that the archdiocese informed the Department of Children and Family Services. Three days later, the archdiocese’s review board concluded there was reasonable cause to suspect at least one of the allegations against Peralta was true.

It was too late. Peralta, with the help of the Salesians, left Chicago, escaping just ahead of a criminal investigation into his conduct. After briefly residing at church facilities in Virginia and New Jersey, Peralta left the United States for Mexico.

Because of years of cover ups by church authorities spanning the Western Hemisphere, Peralta would once again be in a position to sexually abuse children entrusted to his care.

After Peralta’s escape, the archdiocese and Salesians washed their hands of responsibility for investigating his crimes. Despite finding reasonable cause to suspect he had committed sexual abuse, just after Peralta left Chicago the archdiocese closed its investigation and declined to name him on its list of confirmed abusers because he was a Salesian and not an archdiocesan priest. As for the Salesians, they refused to reach any conclusions regarding Peralta because, they said, they were not permitted to interview the families of Peralta’s survivors.

Once again, Peralta had evaded justice with the assistance of the church. In April 2002 a Salesian representative told the Chicago Tribune that Peralta was “working in Mexico City and has had no unsupervised contact with children.” But two years later, a Dallas Morning News investigation revealed Peralta was working as a priest out of a Salesian office across the street from a school.

After Peralta’s escape to Mexico, the archdiocese and Salesians came under pressure for the role they played in enabling his actions. In 1999, a lawsuit was filed alleging Peralta had molested four boys in Chicago. An investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services found evidence substantiating charges of sexual misconduct against Peralta. More recently, the Attorney General’s investigation uncovered a 2001 memorandum sent to Cardinal Francis George revealing the true state of the archdiocese’s knowledge: “Evidence points to the fact that Father Peralta may have molested many other minors during the few months he ministered at St. John Bosco.”

In November 2018, nearly two decades after his abuse was reported to the archdiocese, Peralta was finally added to the archdiocese’s list of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse. But the damage wrought by the church’s prior actions could not be entirely undone. Peralta is believed to be outside the United States and has not been brought to justice. Numerous survivors are left to carry the weight of his crimes—and the failures of the institutions that enabled him.

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*