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Survivor Narratives

Dominic Aloysius Diederich

“Why do the interests of dead priests take precedence over live victims?” This was the question posed in 2006 by a woman who had contacted the Archdiocese of Chicago about abuse perpetrated by deceased Father Dominic Diederich. The archdiocese had already found evidence corroborating the allegations against him. But because Diederich had died in 1977, under the archdiocese’s longstanding policy, his name was not included on a list of priests credibly accused of abuse.

Beginning in the 1960s, Diederich was pastor at Saint Maurice in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago, where he allegedly abused at least five children. His abuse followed a consistent pattern of singling out young girls from economically disadvantaged families.

“Why do the interests of dead priests take precedence over live victims?”

In 2006, multiple survivors came forward with their experiences of Diederich’s abuse. One explained her motivation: “When I read the story in the press and I saw that this had happened to someone else, I wanted to say to her—it happened to me too, you are not the only one.”

In fact, the Archdiocese of Chicago had long known Diederich was an abuser. In 1994, 12 years before these survivors came forward, a different survivor contacted the archdiocese about Diederich’s abuse. The allegations involved the same types of sexual misconduct toward young girls at the Saint Maurice school that the other survivors would later describe. But although the archdiocese concluded there was reasonable cause to suspect that Diederich had engaged in sexual misconduct, it refused to formally review the allegations because Diederich was deceased. In a 1994 letter, the administrator of the archdiocese’s review board explained it “could not proceed formally through the procedures in a matter involving a deceased priest.” Yet that same year, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin approved a financial settlement of the claims against Diederich.

The archdiocese’s policy against formally reviewing allegations against deceased priests kept Diederich off the list of credibly accused priests. As recently as 2015, an archdiocesan attorney wrote to a survivor’s attorney that “[s]ince Monsignor Diederich is deceased, this case will not be going to the Review Board.”

Finally, in November 2018, after the Attorney General began an inquiry into the church’s handling of abuse allegations, Diederich was added to the archdiocese’s public list of clergy with substantiated allegations of child sex abuse. This addition came almost 25 years after the archdiocese first internally acknowledged that Diederich was an abuser—and more than 12 years after multiple women came forward to help assure other survivors that they were not alone.

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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.*