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Survivor Narratives

Walter Edward Huppenbauer

Father Walter Huppenbauer committed multiple acts of child sex abuse against multiple survivors. However, when one came forward in the early 1990s to share what happened to her, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s response was not to open an investigation of her appalling allegations but rather to shield Huppenbauer from scrutiny. As a result, the archdiocese allowed Huppenbauer to remain in parish ministry—and indeed to continue “a series of private confessions with the younger children”—even after becoming aware that he was potentially a predator.

As a result, the archdiocese allowed Huppenbauer to remain in parish ministry—and indeed to continue “a series of private confessions with the younger children”—even after becoming aware that he was potentially a predator.

The archdiocese first received an allegation of child sex abuse against Huppenbauer in October 1992, when he was the pastor of Saint Thomas of Villanova in Palatine. An anonymous woman placed a telephone call to the vicar for priests describing abuse that occurred approximately 30 years earlier when she was in fifth through eighth grades at Saint Hilary in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood. At that time, Huppenbauer was a newly ordained priest and served as an assistant to the pastor at the parish and an assistant girls’ basketball coach at the school. The claimed abuse consisted of rubbing, kissing, and fondling under the survivor’s clothing. When the anonymous woman spoke to the vicar in October 1992, she told him she had called Huppenbauer about a decade earlier—also anonymously—and asked him if he understood what he had done to her. Huppenbauer responded by trying to guess the survivor’s initials—but none of the six or so initials he rattled off were hers. This led her to believe she was one of many young girls who had suffered abuse at Huppenbauer’s hands. A later description of the survivor’s account in the archdiocese’s files suggests church officials found her to be credible at the time she came forward.

Yet the archdiocese’s response to this allegation reveals its primary concern was protecting Huppenbauer and preventing negative publicity. A memo from the vicar for priests relating his initial meeting with Huppenbauer to discuss the allegation reveals the “very first thing was to tell [Huppenbauer] of his rights as a citizen,” particularly his “right to counsel.” The vicar provided Huppenbauer with a list of independent lawyers he could consult (and for whose services the archdiocese would help to pay). Huppenbauer selected one of the lawyers on the list, immediately called him, and was advised not to discuss the matter with the vicar or others at the archdiocese. As a result, Huppenbauer did not provide the archdiocese with a substantive response to the allegation at this initial meeting.

The vicar for priests spoke to the survivor again about a week later. He told her “that by the constitution of the United States [Huppenbauer] has rights not to indict himself and that his lawyer was advising him not to do so.” The vicar also warned the woman—who reiterated her desire to remain anonymous—that if Huppenbauer “had to be removed from the parish, then most likely the State’s Attorney’s Office would be notified and there would be an investigation and it would come out.” The context suggests this may have been intended to discourage the woman from pursuing her allegation any further.

In the meantime, the vicar for priests placed Huppenbauer “under the mandate not to be in the presence of minors under 18” and asked him “to inform his principal and his Business Manager” so they could enforce the “mandate.” Huppenbauer was noncommittal about whether he would be able to do this, so the vicar gave him an opportunity to “think it over.” The vicar warned that eventually he would have to inform the principal and business manager if Huppenbauer didn’t do so himself—and, moreover, “if the woman comes forward, which is a strong likelihood, then we will have to deal with the monitoring in a stronger fashion.” The vicar’s admission that the “strength” of the archdiocese’s monitoring mandate depended not on the survivor’s credibility, the priest’s culpability, or the present danger to children, but rather on the public nature of the allegations, suggests its purpose was to protect the archdiocese’s reputation—not the children potentially at risk.

This conclusion is strengthened by the fact that, a month after the archdiocese learned of the allegation against Huppenbauer, still no one at Saint Thomas of Villanova had been informed of it or the mandate Huppenbauer supposedly was under to stay out of the presence of children. Huppenbauer’s lawyer told the vicar for priests that his client was “reluctant to tell anybody lest the allegation become widespread.” The vicar responded that the archdiocese too wanted the monitoring “to be as low-key as possible” but insisted it had to occur and, moreover, the archdiocese wanted Huppenbauer “to initiate it.” After speaking further with Huppenbauer, his lawyer returned to the vicar a few days later and reported that Huppenbauer had finally agreed to speak to his principal and business manager. But Huppenbauer “pleaded” for an exception to the mandate that would allow him to continue “a series of private confessions with the younger children” of the parish. He insisted “it would be very difficult to change the format at this present time.” The vicar agreed to “allow this” because “the allegation against [Huppenbauer] is still in a semi-anonymous stage and [Huppenbauer] has absolutely no record in his past of any previous problems with youth.” Huppenbauer continued to participate in these private confessions with younger children for at least another two weeks before alternate arrangements were made.

More than a year passed without any further action by the archdiocese. To this point, Huppenbauer still had never admitted, denied, or responded in any substantive way to the allegation against him. Although an independent review board had been established to evaluate allegations against archdiocesan priests concerning child sex abuse, the archdiocese decided not to submit the allegation against Huppenbauer to that tribunal because the survivor wanted to remain anonymous. Huppenbauer was “pleased” that instead the vicar for priests would continue to handle the matter.

In December 1993—14 months after the archdiocese first learned of the allegation against Huppenbauer—Cardinal Joseph Bernardin met with Huppenbauer to ask for his “voluntary resignation from the parish.” The cardinal “told Huppenbauer he could not, nor would he, force the resignation, but felt that that would be best both for Huppenbauer and for the Archdiocese.” The cardinal stressed “the risk that the Archdiocese is taking” by allowing Huppenbauer to continue his ministry at Saint Thomas of Villanova and how his resignation “would help protect Huppenbauer himself, the parish, and the Archdiocese.” No mention was made of protecting children.

In February 1994, Huppenbauer agreed to resign. The archdiocese then appointed Huppenbauer to serve as chaplain to the Little Sisters of the Poor Center for the Aging in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The parishioners of Saint Thomas of Villanova were not told that their pastor had been asked to resign because of an allegation of child sex abuse—or that after learning about that allegation, the archdiocese allowed Huppenbauer to continue serving in that role for almost two years. Nevertheless, the vicar for priests later would describe the archdiocese as “coming down on the conservative side in this matter.” Huppenbauer would continue as chaplain at Little Sisters of the Poor for another seven years before retiring from active ministry in November 2001.

In May 2002, the archdiocese was again approached by the anonymous survivor who had first come forward in October 1992. This time, she agreed to reveal her identity and formalize her allegation of child sex abuse against Huppenbauer to the archdiocese. In September 2002, the survivor’s allegation was presented to the review board, which found there was reasonable cause to suspect that the alleged misconduct occurred and recommended that Huppenbauer remain withdrawn from ministry and that restrictions and monitoring be imposed on him. It was only at this time that the parishioners of Saint Thomas of Villanova and other members of the public were told about the allegations levied against their former pastor. According to a contemporaneous report in the Daily Herald, “[p]arishioners expressed shock first at the fact that Huppenbauer’s past had not been made known to the congregation sooner, and that the victim’s attempt [in the 1990s] to bring the abuse to light had not been successful.” Subsequently, the review board conducted a second review and again found reasonable cause to suspect Huppenbauer engaged in sexual misconduct with a child. And in July 2003, Cardinal Francis George reviewed the results of the archdiocese’s investigation and determined that there was a semblance of truth to the allegations that Huppenbauer engaged in acts of sexual misconduct with a child.

Since then, the archdiocese has received additional allegations of child sex abuse against Huppenbauer. In May 2009, after being told he would have to submit to more stringent monitoring protocols, Huppenbauer asked to be laicized. He ceased to be a priest in August 2010 and died in December 2014.

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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.*