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Survivor Narratives

James Craig Hagan

To most, Father James Hagan “was the cool addition to the church,” the “pastor that changed the tide . . . he was beloved by everyone.” But a darker truth lurked behind this sunny façade. For nearly two decades, Hagan used his position as a beloved priest in the community to repeatedly sexually abuse more than a dozen young children and teenagers.

There is evidence that Hagan’s abusive behavior may have begun as early as 1972, during his time at seminary. Later investigation found reasonable cause to suspect Hagan had fondled the buttocks and genitals of an 11 year old child on at least one occasion during that year. Hagan appears to have struck a second time about five years later. In 1977, three years after his ordination in 1974, Hagan found a new, 12 year old victim, who allegedly was subjected to “fondling and masturbation” on “numerous” occasions over the next six years.

By the mid-1980s, Hagan’s actions were becoming ever more frequent, more blatant, and more brutal. The Archdiocese of Chicago’s records show he likely began to sexually abuse three more children in 1981 and an additional three children in 1982. By 1985, Hagan may have been actively and simultaneously abusing and raping as many as eight different children, including through forced fondling, masturbation, and oral sex.

Hagan’s actions nearly came to light in 1988, when allegations of child sex abuse were brought to the attention of the archdiocese and law enforcement by parents concerned over the way in which Hagan was teaching a sex education class. But Hagan’s brush with the law did not prevent his predatory behavior; rather, it continued without pause. In 1988, he arrived at a new parish, Saint Denis in the Ashburn neighborhood of Chicago. Hagan would work there as a pastor through 1996.

Benn Jordan, who asked that his real name be used, is a survivor of Hagan’s abuse in this period. He was an elementary school student and altar server at Saint Denis in the late 1980s. He was glad to have Hagan as a member of the community and looked up to him. “He was almost the type of figure where you are happy he knows you by name,” Benn recalled years later.

The first time Hagan targeted Benn was in a bus, on the way back from a field trip. “Hagan sat next to me, put his hands between my legs,” remembers Benn. After that, the abuse escalated. Hagan exposed himself to Benn in the bathroom and then forced Benn to masturbate him, letting him leave only when Benn said his family was waiting to pick him up. In a third attack, Hagan fondled Benn and forced him to perform oral sex. The abuse continued for several months. “I stopped caring in a weird way,” Benn recalls. “I had what I now understand is depersonalization.”

“He was almost the type of figure where you are happy he knows you by name,” Benn recalled years later.

While Hagan stopped actively abusing Benn after several months, Benn’s life would never be the same. He started acting out in school—“I brought a switch blade, stopped doing my homework.” Soon Benn began to get panic attacks, which made it made it difficult to be in school. He dropped out as a teenager, before completing his high school degree.

As Benn suffered, the archdiocese continued its support for Hagan. In December 1991, the vicar for priests reached out to Hagan directly about a new archdiocesan initiative “to review all cases of alleged or real child abuse in our archdiocesan records.” “I want to set your mind at ease a bit,” the vicar wrote. “One of those cases was the situation in which you were involved in May of 1988. . . . As far as they were concerned, the incident is closed. . . . We can put it away for good now.”

But the archdiocese was wrong; the truth could not be put away. In early 1996, several survivors stepped forward with allegations that Hagan had abused them as children. Their testimony was so powerful the archdiocese could no longer brush aside Hagan’s monstrous acts. In August 1996, he was forced to resign as pastor of Saint Denis, and in April 1997, he resigned from the priesthood entirely.

The archdiocese has never truly grappled with its role in Hagan’s crimes. In May 2005, Cardinal Francis George issued a declaration that “the Archdiocese does not consider itself in any way responsible for the activities of James C. Hagan” and “is not to be held liable for any scandal or harm to souls for which he has been or is responsible.” Meanwhile, Benn wonders whether the church is doing enough to ensure what happened to him never happens to another child. “This is a systematic problem,” Benn insists. “The church needs to hire psychologists to examine priests. We need to intervene as much as possible . . . [to] prevent future incidents from happening.”

In May 2005, Cardinal Francis George issued a declaration that “the Archdiocese does not consider itself in any way responsible for the activities of James C. Hagan” and “is not to be held liable for any scandal or harm to souls for which he has been or is responsible.”

Hagan was finally laicized in April 2010. As of that date, the archdiocese had substantiated 11 allegations of sexual abuse and concluded there was “reasonable cause to suspect” Hagan had abused several more children.

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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.*