James Allen Hoder
The Archdiocese of Chicago thought it had Father James Hoder under control. After it learned he had sexually abused a child, an archdiocesan official simply told Hoder to “avoid unsupervised contact” with children and left it at that. The archdiocese warned Hoder twice more that same year about his “contacts with youth”; it even ordered him to stop teaching high school classes. But it wasn’t long before a fellow priest and parish housekeeper came forward to accuse Hoder of sexually abusing more children.
Still, the archdiocese did not suspend or expel Hoder. It simply allowed him to take a sabbatical at an educational center, then gave him another associate pastor position upon his return. When that position became untenable, the archdiocese moved Hoder to a hospital chaplaincy but neglected to inform hospital administrators of his past. As more allegations came in against Hoder, the archdiocese finally removed him from ministry—six years after first hearing a report that Hoder had sexually abused a child.
It was July 1985 when the archdiocese learned Hoder had sexually abused a teenage seminarian several years earlier. Hoder had just been assigned to Saint David in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood—and it was the survivor himself who came forward to report his worry that Hoder was seducing young people. The vicar for priests met with Hoder to discuss his “concerns”; the vicar’s handwritten notes show Hoder admitted he “had many problems from 1976 to 1980”—when he was assigned to Saint Ita in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood—but “has had no involvements since 1982.”
The vicar instructed Hoder “to avoid unsupervised contact with young people since this seems to have been a problem in the past” but appears to have placed no actual restrictions on Hoder’s ministry. A few months later, in October 1985, the vicar delivered another “[s]trong message to [Hoder] to end unsupervised contacts with youth” (although the vicar also said he “admire[d] [Hoder’s] generosity in wanting to help young people from [his] former parish”—Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood). Despite this warning, the vicar discovered in December 1985 that Hoder was teaching classes at Mount Carmel High School in Chicago. He ordered Hoder “to cease teaching and devote his full attention to parish work.”
The archdiocese’s file on Hoder does not indicate whether he actually followed the vicar’s instructions. Those records pick up in February 1990, when the vicar received disturbing reports from the pastor and housekeeper at Saint David—where Hoder was still assigned as an associate pastor. They told the vicar that Hoder had been associating with “young males” in the parish rectory, including having “one kid overnight in his room even though there were two other guest rooms available.” These revelations prompted the vicar to tell an associate in March 1990 that “there was no way Jim was going to be allowed to take another assignment.” At the time, Hoder was teaching a preschool class in addition to his associate duties, but archdiocesan records do not indicate Hoder was told to stop teaching.
The vicar met with Hoder the following month to discuss his “concerns.” The conversation apparently turned to the survivor who had come forward five years earlier to report Hoder sexually abused him as a teenage seminarian. Hoder admitted he and the boy “had sexual activity between themselves three or four times.” After the meeting, the vicar spoke to the executive director of the archdiocesan priest personnel board. They agreed a “sabbatical would be an excellent idea for” Hoder. The vicar’s notes memorialize his suggestion “that they simply allow the process to continue and let’s see whether or not any pastor is willing to take Jim.”
Remarkably, one was; in August 1991, after his sabbatical had ended, Hoder was assigned to Saint Joseph in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. And just as remarkably, archdiocesan officials encouraged Hoder’s return to parish ministry. A few months earlier, for example, the vicar had told a colleague he “saw no reason why Jim could not be re-assigned in the usual manner.” The archdiocese’s files do not disclose how, or whether, its assignment process considered the risk Hoder posed to children.
Hoder’s time at Saint Joseph came to an abrupt end, however, and archdiocesan records are unclear about why. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin placed Hoder on immediate administrative leave in November 1991, just three months after he arrived in the parish. The vicar for priest’s notes refer cryptically to a “ruling” against Hoder concerning his “relationship” with an unknown person. Hoder apparently defended himself, stating “he had done everything that he had been asked to do when he admitted to this relationship.” Still, he was placed on a “protocol” requiring him to turn over phone bills, show a ticket or receipt to prove his attendance at social events, call every two hours when away from his residence, and avoid any guests under the age of 18.
Eventually, Hoder began to receive new, limited assignments. The following year, the archdiocese allowed him to assist the pastor in celebrating the liturgy at nearby Saint Michael the Archangel. He also began a chaplaincy at the University of Illinois hospital. But that appointment too came to an abrupt end. In November 1992, the university’s director of pastoral ministry called the vicar for priests to tell him she was “extremely concerned about Hoder at this time.” Apparently, she had gotten wind of Hoder’s history of abuse and wanted to know why the archdiocese had not informed her. The vicar’s notes on the conversation reflect a startling level of cluelessness. “[F]or some reason,” he wrote, “I did not inform her of Hoder’s background. I should have informed her at the time, but I guess I presumed that she knew. That was my fault and so I informed her about as much as I thought she needed to know about his background and why he was in the situation where he is at right now.”
Later that month, the bottom finally fell out for Holder. The archdiocese received a phone call from another survivor who reported Hoder had fondled him when he was in his mid-teens. The vicar for priests rescinded Hoder’s authorization for limited ministry and placed him on immediate administrative leave. Hoder objected, but this time Cardinal Bernardin held firm. By May 1994, the archdiocese had assigned Hoder to a halfway house in Missouri. And within three years, Hoder had resigned from the priesthood altogether.
After Hoder’s resignation, the archdiocese received multiple allegations of his past sexual abuse of children. In 2009, Hoder was laicized, removing any remaining status he retained as a member of the clergy. Today he is featured on the archdiocese’s list of clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with children.