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Survivor Narratives

Victor E. Stewart

Father Victor Stewart had a turbulent priesthood. Shortly after he was ordained, a young boy moved into his rectory on the South Side of Chicago and lived there for several years with the knowledge and tacit approval of Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and other high-ranking officials in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Stewart sexually abused the young boy repeatedly. He was not the only victim; Stewart allegedly abused dozens of children during his 14 years as a parish priest. And child sex abuse was not Stewart’s only offense. He was also accused of financial improprieties—including embezzling thousands of dollars from his low-income parish. Worse, survivors of Stewart’s abuse are mostly Black but, for various reasons, did not always have their allegations taken seriously by the archdiocese—leading to a particular sense of distrust and betrayal in the communities where Stewart was assigned to minister.

Stewart was ordained in 1978 and assigned to Saint Catherine of Genoa in Chicago’s West Pullman neighborhood. A survivor later came forward to the archdiocese to describe how Stewart sexually abused him during this time. The survivor was in high school when he wound up spending a lot of time with Stewart, who taught him how to drive, took him bowling, and treated him to other activities. The survivor recalled Stewart “had a lot of young friends.” The survivor explained how “the relationship turned bad” when Stewart began to perform oral sex on him. This happened about once a month over the course of the survivor’s time in high school. A neighbor became aware of the survivor’s close relationship with Stewart and warned the survivor “to stay away from” Stewart, although she didn’t say why. Later, the survivor would wonder if perhaps the neighbor “knew something about” Stewart—if perhaps there were others Stewart had abused even earlier.

The survivor explained Stewart “took advantage” of him and other young boys in the predominantly Black parish community. Other witnesses later told the archdiocese they saw boys coming in and out of the rectory “all the time”; some even stayed overnight.

In 1982, Stewart was assigned to Saint Charles Lwanga near Washington Park in Chicago. A survivor later told the archdiocese he had moved into the rectory at Saint Charles Lwanga that same year and had lived there through 1987. The survivor met Stewart when he was in seventh grade. Stewart bought gifts for the survivor and paid for his driving lessons; he also made the survivor kiss him, rub lotion on him, and massage him. The survivor further reported that Cardinal Bernardin and other high-ranking archdiocese officials visited the rectory during this time and knew he was living there. The survivor explained Stewart “took advantage” of him and other young boys in the predominantly Black parish community. Other witnesses later told the archdiocese they saw boys coming in and out of the rectory “all the time”; some even stayed overnight. A fellow priest said he often saw Stewart “roughhousing” with parish boys. Stewart was especially close to members of the parish school’s boys’ basketball team. One parishioner said “Stewart would buy boys expensive Michael Jordan gym shoes and jogging suits.” He even bought some boys cars when they got older.

In January 1985, Stewart wrote a check drawn on a parish account to pay for a boy’s lessons at a local driving school. The checked bounced, and, after attempting unsuccessfully to resolve the issue with Stewart, the driving school reached out to the archdiocese in March 1985 for help. A few weeks later, Stewart abruptly resigned as pastor of Saint Charles Lwanga. He told colleagues he was suffering from “ministry burnout” and expected it would “take a great deal of time and rest for proper healing and regeneration to take place.” But soon after resigning, Stewart wrote Cardinal Bernardin to ask for his position back. He told the cardinal he only recently “began to realize what tragic consequences [his] resignation would have on many persons”—particularly the boys of the parish community. Stewart explained he “found [him]self moving more and more in the direction of ‘father image’ to many of our young people,” including when he “was asked, because of desperate circumstances, to take one of the kids to live in the rectory.” Stewart also explained he was “sponsoring” five children from the parish to attend Catholic high schools because “their parents are too poor to pay the tuition.” Stewart proposed a “team ministry” approach going forward where another pastor “would be concerned with financial and fiscal concerns” and “Stewart would concern himself with pastoral and spiritual, Youth concerns.” Cardinal Bernardin subsequently allowed Stewart to resume his position at Saint Charles Lwanga, where he remained for another five years.

The archdiocese now understands—and has expressed to the Attorney General’s investigators—that it has work to do to ensure Black survivors feel as comfortable sharing their experiences and seeking justice for their abuse as survivors of other races.

In 1990, Stewart was appointed to Saint Ailbe in Chicago’s Calumet Heights neighborhood. The reason for the change was the archdiocese’s decision to shutter Saint Charles Lwanga. The archdiocese worried Stewart would not “be able to cope with” the closure and doubted whether Stewart would “be up to communicating the message properly to the parish and whether or not he personally will be able to deal with the issue.” In July 1990, Stewart moved into the second floor of the rectory at Saint Ailbe. He brought with him two boys described in church records as Stewart’s “sons,” as well as “three other boys from St. Charles Lwanga.” Archdiocesan officials would later report the second floor of the Saint Ailbe rectory was “sealed” from the rest of the parish community, with only Stewart and those five young boys enjoying “access to that portion of the house.” Parishioners also told the archdiocese Stewart’s “sons and the other three boys [ ] receive money on a regular basis and perform no services for the parish.”

Soon after transition to Saint Ailbe, Stewart’s career as a parish priest began its spiraling descent when two separate yet related bouts of wrongdoing suddenly came to light. Archdiocesan records show the vicar for priests reached out to Stewart in late 1990 to request “exact addresses and phone numbers” for a number of young men Stewart apparently knew as boys. The vicar for priests wanted to interview the young men but, troublingly, provided “reassurance” to Stewart in advance and noted approvingly in an internal memo that Stewart was “willing to cooperate in order to do whatever is necessary to put this whole thing behind him.” In February 1991, the vicar for priests conducted an interview with one of these young men—the survivor noted above who was abused by Stewart at Saint Catherine of Genoa. This survivor—whom the vicar for priests described as “polite and friendly” and “a fine young man” whose veracity could not be questioned—gave the vicar for priests a detailed narrative of the sexual abuse Stewart had inflicted on him as a child. Yet the vicar for priests apparently determined to do nothing in response. He told the survivor’s mother he believed her son and “was very much impressed with” him but did not know how to proceed because Stewart, by contrast, apparently had denied that any abuse had occurred. The archdiocese then closed its “investigation” into the matter.

Meanwhile, more trouble was brewing for Stewart. In June 1991, the vicar for priests learned an accountant had documented “malfeasance” in Saint Ailbe’s “financial situation”—at the very least “financial mismanagement or worse—stealing.” The archdiocese had “been hearing these complaints over a long period of time” but decided to respond “slowly” given Stewart’s “other difficulties” and a concern about “put[ting] [too] much pressure on” Stewart at one time. Parishioners had reported about $20,000 missing from the church’s bank accounts and “want[ed] to go to the police” about it. They also told archdiocesan officials Stewart had “young men going in and out of the rectory day and night.” One parishioner observed “young boys seem to have the run of the second floor” of the rectory, where Stewart lived. The archdiocese acknowledged Saint Ailbe parishioners “really want [Stewart] thrown out” and determined a financial audit would be necessary. Church records do not reveal how the archdiocese responded, if at all, to parishioners’ separate concern about young boys in the rectory. One church leader did note, however, that “his lack of trust” in Stewart stemming from his mismanagement of parish funds was now causing “doubts in [the church leader’s] mind about the other matters.”

A few weeks later, the archdiocese recognized it was inevitable Stewart would have to resign his post at Saint Ailbe in light of the financial transgressions quickly coming to light. Stewart agreed to do so. In response to reports that “young men are still coming and going and things are being taken from the rectory,” the archdiocese determined to “change the locks and get an alarm security system and possibly ‘babysitters’ for the house just to make sure it is not vandalized.” Finally, after a month of rumors and uncertainty, a senior archdiocesan official was dispatched to Saint Ailbe in August 1991 to inform parishioners of Stewart’s resignation.

For months, Stewart languished between assignments as the archdiocese searched for someplace to park him and dealt with the fall-out from his transgressions. An internal memo from October 1991 mentions Stewart’s “fears of the accusations against him being renewed” and the archdiocese’s attempts to learn if those fears “are well-founded.” Finally, in June 1992, the church appointed Stewart to serve as a live-in chaplain at Mercy Health Care and Rehabilitation Center in Homewood—even though several teenagers worked at the facility every afternoon. Stewart lived and ministered there until he died two years later in June 1994.

In the years after Stewart died, dozens of survivors stepped forward to report his abuse to the archdiocese. Like Stewart himself, the survivors of his abuse were mostly African American. But these survivors—along with the mostly Black survivors of another disgraced priest, Father Terence Fitzmaurice—soon came to believe the archdiocese was treating their claims differently on the basis of their race. The survivors voiced three principal concerns—the archdiocese subjected their claims to higher scrutiny than those of white survivors, offered lower monetary settlements, and failed to fully inform them of available counseling services. The archdiocese commissioned an investigation by an independent law firm, which, in a November 2009 report, found the church “employed a higher scrutiny to claims brought against Stewart” but for reasons other than the survivors’ race.

The Attorney General’s investigators pressed the archdiocese to explain these findings. Its general counsel provided information suggesting plausible and nonracial reasons to evaluate some (but not all) claims against Stewart with heightened scrutiny. The general counsel also insisted the archdiocese did not act with the intent to discriminate against Stewart’s survivors on the basis of race (and the Attorney General’s investigators found no evidence it had). Nevertheless, the general counsel recognized Black survivors were disproportionately affected by the archdiocese’s decision to apply heightened scrutiny to claims against Stewart—even if that was not the archdiocese’s intent. The disparate impact of the archdiocese’s approach is likely to have sowed distrust in Black communities and caused harm to Black survivors who justifiably perceive they have been, or will be, treated differently because of their race. Some may even have decided not to report their abuse because of the indignities they expected to face if the archdiocese “employed a higher scrutiny to [their] claims.”

The archdiocese now understands—and has expressed to the Attorney General’s investigators—that it has work to do to ensure Black survivors feel as comfortable sharing their experiences and seeking justice for their abuse as survivors of other races. It must continue to be conscious of—and take action to address—the particular ways in which Black communities, and others, have been affected by the scourge of priests who prey on children. The Attorney General anticipates the archdiocese’s renewed commitment to providing compassion and healing to all survivors of child sex abuse.

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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.*