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Survivor Narratives

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.

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.

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.

Kissane had “admitted to sexual involvement with 9 teenage females,” the vicar noted, including one victim only 14 years of age.

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.

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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.*