Joseph Patrick Kissane
After Father Joseph Kissane confessed in graphic detail to sexually abusing three children, the Archdiocese of Chicago sat on its hands for six months. Even then, the archdiocese’s solution was merely to ask another priest to keep an eye on Kissane with no formal restrictions. The archdiocese did not remove Kissane from public ministry until almost two years after his confession. The archdiocese then sat back for decades before informing the public about Kissane’s abuse. In that time, many more survivors came forward to share their experiences with the archdiocese.
The archdiocese first received allegations of sexual misconduct by Kissane in June 1989. The survivor’s lawyer sent a letter reporting that Kissane had sexually abused the survivor from 1978 to 1979, when she was a child, at Saint Catherine of Alexandria in Oak Lawn. She recalled another priest at the parish frequently saw her in the rectory and even scolded Kissane for bringing her by so often. Kissane also took the survivor to a doctor to obtain contraception, which he paid for.
Within a month of receiving this letter, the vicar for priests spoke to both the survivor and Kissane. The internal memorandum summarizing the vicar’s interview with Kissane recounts the priest’s confession, not only to abusing the survivor who came forward, but also to abusing two other children. Yet, the document describes Kissane’s crimes as if they were passive events in which he had no agency. And even though he was well-aware of the survivors’ ages, the vicar wrote that Kissane characterized his abuse of them as “relationships”—showing neither man understood the girls were unable to consent because of their young ages.
Despite Kissane’s admission, the archdiocese did nothing to protect other children from him for almost six more months. There is no record it reported his criminal conduct to law enforcement. And when the archdiocese finally took action in December 1989, it was incongruent with the severity of Kissane’s abuse. The vicar for priests merely instructed a fellow priest to watch Kissane and ensure he was not around children without another adult present. The instruction was informal, vague, and flimsy considering Kissane still had official power from the archdiocese to minister without restriction.
In January 1990, seven months after Kissane’s confession, the archdiocese finally got around to investigating him. The vicar for priests questioned Kissane’s former colleague at Saint Catherine, who recalled “there would always be several grade school girls hanging around” Kissane. “They become attached,” the priest continued, “and from time to time they would be up in [Kissane]’s room or [he] would take them for a ride in his car.” The priest admitted he was concerned about Kissane’s behavior, not because he feared these “grade school girls” were being groomed or sexually abused, but rather because he worried “who knows what these kids might say about [Kissane] later on.” He did recall the parents of one child who “used to hang around [Kissane’s] room a lot” said “in no uncertain terms that they did not want their daughter to have anything to do with him.” He also recalled the principal of the parish school “was concerned about the young girls paying so much attention to [Kissane] and being at the rectory so much.” The vicar for priests instructed Kissane’s former colleague to “keep all of this under hat” and “not let on to anyone any knowledge of the situation.”
But only a short time later, in August 1990, the archdiocese received another allegation of child sex abuse against Kissane. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin told the vicar for priests, “if the charges are true, then there is no way in which we can allow Kissane to ever function again.” The following month, Kissane was living with his parents, presumably unsupervised and in any event continuing to see his accuser. The vicar for priests apparently was incredulous: “I asked [Kissane] how he explained continuing such a contact when her claim is that he has done such devastating damage to her. He said that they were trying to explore whether or not it would be possible to maintain some sort of friendship.”
In November 1990, the vicar for priests drafted a memorandum to Cardinal Bernardin summarizing discussions with Kissane relating to a survivor’s recently filed lawsuit. Kissane had “admitted to sexual involvement with 9 teenage females,” the vicar noted, including one victim only 14 years of age. Yet, the vicar’s primary concern seemed to be the cost of looming litigation for the church. He told Kissane “the possibility of his returning to ministry is practically nil” because of “the potential for enormous litigation”—and also emphasized “someone has to be concerned about the enormous sums of money that is being expended.”
In January 1991, Cardinal Bernardin told the vicar for priests “that he definitely does not intend to allow [Kissane] ever to minister in this archdiocese” and “it would be scandalous for [the archdiocese] to allow him to minister.” Three months later, in April, the cardinal withdrew Kissane’s faculties, thus terminating his ability to minister in the archdiocese. Kissane submitted his resignation request shortly thereafter, and the cardinal accepted it—two years after Kissane first admitted to sexually abusing young girls.
In August 1994, another survivor wrote a letter to Cardinal Bernardin reporting that Kissane had raped her two decades earlier in the convent at Saint Catejan in Chicago’s Morgan Park neighborhood. The archdiocese’s newly created review board was made aware of the allegation—and also that Kissane “was an ‘old’ case of an Archdiocesan priest with prior allegation(s) of sexual misconduct with minors lodged against him in the past.” Yet, the vicar for priests failed to provide the board with any details about the prior allegations. At a subsequent meeting, the board determined that, because Kissane had already resigned from ministry, the archdiocese would not investigate the allegation—and indeed would shun the survivor by declining to “write/attempt to contact [her] to request a meeting for her to detail her allegation.”
It was not until November 2002 that the review board finally investigated and substantiated an allegation of sexual abuse against Kissane—this one from among the influx of survivors who came forward in light of the Boston Globe’s reporting on child sex abuse in the church earlier that year. Many of those other allegations were also substantiated by the board. Kissane was laicized in August 2010 and died the following year.