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Survivor Narratives

Daniel Peter Buck

Sending a love letter is an age-old method of showing affection. But when the author is a Catholic priest and the recipient is a teenage girl, the tradition takes a sickening turn. Father Daniel Buck, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was assigned to Saint Francis Borgia in Chicago’s Dunning neighborhood beginning in the late 1970s. It was there that he developed an inappropriate relationship with a 15 year old girl in the early 1980s.

One day in June 1984, Buck put pen to paper and authored a graphic and disturbing “love” letter to the young girl. He opened by reflecting on the “wonderful day” they had spent together:

I loved being close to you, holding your hand, feeling your gentle, loving touch, hearing your happy laughter, seeing your smile. I loved your outfit, the way it covered (and uncovered) various delightful parts of you. I tried to be careful, but I couldn’t resist touching your legs and your neck; and I loved holding you close on the subway (rush hour isn’t all bad). Your cute little belly button was like a magnet to me. I hope you didn’t mind me taking a peek at it every chance I got, and searching for it with my naughty fingers in the subway. I’m sorry if I embarrassed you at all, but I’m only human and I can’t resist you.

Buck also described the initial “panic” he’d felt upon receiving a phone call earlier that evening from the teenager’s mother. He said he “feared the worst”—that perhaps the mother had “checked [the girl] for fingerprints” or found “a particularly juicy letter” Buck had written her. But Buck came away from the call “happy” because he felt sure he was “winning back [the mother’s] trust.” Buck told the young girl he “desperately want[ed] to show everyone concerned that our relationship is good for both of us” and assured her “[n]othing we do together will ever intentionally hurt us or anyone else.” “I promise that I will resist the urge to rip off your clothes,” he said, “when other people are around, that is. I hope you’ll be careful with your hands, too. Perhaps prayer will help you overcome your overwhelming biological urges. But don’t pray too much!” Buck concluded with a number of requests: “Stay as sweet as you are; don’t change a thing for me (except, of course your underwear every now and then; I’ll gladly help.)” He added, “Needless to say, I’d appreciate it if you kept this letter in a secure place, away from curious eyes!”

Yet the archdiocese still gave Buck another placement, despite his admission that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a child.

The girl’s mother found the letter in July 1984 and alerted archdiocesan officials. The notes of the official who responded to the complaint called the girl a “basket case” but noted her parents were threatening legal action. Rather than remove Buck from ministry, the official concluded it was a “necessity” to transfer him to a new parish. Neither Buck’s letter to the archdiocese requesting transfer, nor the archdiocese’s memo about the “emergency transfer,” contained any mention of his inappropriate behavior with a teenage girl.

But even a transfer could not keep Buck away from the young girl he described as his “forever friend.” He returned to Saint Francis Borgia in October 1984 to attend a Halloween dance for parish teens followed by a “lock-in” sleepover at the church. He was seen there watching a movie “with his arm draped across [the teenage girl’s] shoulder.”

Buck remained in ministry into the 1990s. In 1995, when he was about to be transferred to Saint Priscilla, a parish near Saint Francis Borgia, the girl’s family complained. Instead of removing Buck from ministry, the archdiocese’s vicar for priests wrote: “If [Buck] is willing to withdraw his name from Saint Priscilla’s, then we can move on rather quietly.” The archdiocese also acknowledged that Buck’s case should have been—but due to an oversight was not—reviewed by the Cardinal’s commission, a body that investigated child sex abuse by clergy in 1991 and 1992. Yet the archdiocese still gave Buck another placement, despite his admission that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a child.

The archdiocese allowed Buck to remain in ministry for over 15 years despite written proof of his misconduct.

Only in the wake of the Dallas Charter in 2002 did the archdiocese finally remove Buck from ministry and submit his actions to a review board. In 2002 and 2003, three additional allegations were made against Buck. Of the four total allegations, three were found to be substantiated by the archdiocese. One of them stemmed from Buck’s 1984 letter; the others were made by the mother of two girls who alleged he fondled their chests and genitals in the mid-1970s when they were between 8 and 13 years old.

The archdiocese allowed Buck to remain in ministry for over 15 years despite written proof of his misconduct. And even though archdiocesan officials had been presented with this written evidence, a copy of the letter was not placed in Buck’s file at the time the allegation was made in 1984. Perhaps this recordkeeping gaffe explains why Buck’s case was somehow overlooked and not presented to the Cardinal’s commission. The archdiocese did place some restrictions on Buck’s ministry in the mid-1990s, including a prohibition on being alone with children. But it took the 2002 Dallas Charter for the archdiocese to permanently remove from ministry a predator who wrote out his illicit thoughts and actions in vivid detail.

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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.*