William R. Leyhane
Now a psychologist and an ordained Catholic deacon in the Diocese of Joliet, Terry Neary (who permitted his real name to be used), is a survivor of child sex abuse committed by a Catholic priest, Father William Leyhane. Terry believes the church’s public naming of abusers on diocesan websites is a “game changer” for survivor healing. He identified to the Attorney General’s investigators seven “vital benefits and purposes for listing substantiated perpetrators on diocese websites”:
“No one sees a simple private letter, or a rarely read lawsuit. A public list is different—everyone sees it.”
“Public listing is an announcement by the church to survivors that ‘we believe you.’”
Invitation for Healing
“After a name goes up, other victims of that abuser are more likely to come forward for the healing the church says it wants to provide.”
Transfer of Guilt and Shame
“Someone carries the guilt and shame. When the name goes up, the survivor can finally put down the guilt and shame, transferring it to the abuser.”
“The church is taking action for its past failures in protecting children.”
“The church is no longer hiding and covering up.”
“The needs of survivors finally outweigh those of guilty priests.”
Because Terry understands so well the importance of disclosure, he fought for years to have Leyhane named as a child sex abuser and placed on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s public list. He painstakingly described to Attorney General’s investigators how he was met with resistance at every turn—told time and time again that the “archdiocese’s policies” did not allow the church to investigate Leyhane’s abuse—and therefore precluded him from being named on the archdiocese’s public list of substantiated abusers.
Finally, on October 14, 2022, after additional pressure from the Attorney General’s investigators, the archdiocese relented. It agreed to, and did, add Leyhane to its public list of child sex abusers. It also changed its policy regarding other abuse claims brought against deceased priests, each of which will now be investigated. With that, Terry had some sense of peace. But the struggle and conflict leading to the policy change, and the naming of Leyhane, is only a part of the decade’s long retraumatization which Terry experienced from the archdiocese’s response and lack of response.
In 1971, while 13 year old Terry was answering phones in the rectory of Saint Ethelreda in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, Leyhane passed by and asked if he would like some cookies. As any child would, Terry followed Leyhane into the kitchen for a snack. It was there that the first abuse happened. Leyhane, who was 75 years old at the time, started fondling Terry’s “genitals and French kissing” him. “I remember the layout of the room and his disgusting cigar breath.” That happened again two or three times over the next month. “It stopped when I said no to his invitations and gave him the cold shoulder.”
Terry told no one of the abuse because he “knew it was wrong.” He kept it inside for nearly 10 years. Finally, in 1980, when studying for a doctorate degree in clinical psychology at Loyola University Chicago, Terry shared with therapists and family members what happened to him at Saint Ethelreda.
By 1995, Terry was a clinical phycologist and active in his parish. It was then that he summoned the courage to report Leyhane’s abuse to the archdiocese. He had a brief telephone conversation with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who apologized to Terry. “Cardinal Bernardin was very pastoral during our conversation,” Terry recalls. “He helped me.”
In October 2001, Terry met with archdiocesan officials to make a formal report of Leyhane’s abuse. He tearfully described what Leyhane had done to him and offered suggestions about how the church might better handle abuse claims and screening candidates for the priesthood. When asked what the archdiocese could do for him, Terry requested it award four $500 scholarships to graduates of Saint Ethelreda who wished to attend a Catholic high school. The archdiocese agreed. But later, when Terry attended the Saint Ethelreda school graduation, he noticed no scholarships had been awarded. Terry then requested a meeting with Cardinal Francis George, who had succeeded Cardinal Bernardin as the leader of the archdiocese.
During their 45 minute meeting, Cardinal George told Terry that he would “take care of the scholarships,” and the scholarships were subsequently given.
Months later, Terry received a letter from the archdiocese advising him that its review board had evaluated his claim and concluded “it is possible that sexual abuse of a minor had occurred.” Terry thought this meant the archdiocese had substantiated and validated Leyhane’s abuse of him. Years passed before Terry discovered how mistaken he was.
In fact, after Terry met with archdiocesan officials in October 2001, the review board reported to Cardinal George that, while it thought it was “possible that sexual misconduct with a minor occurred,” it “was reluctant to find ‘reasonable cause’ that Father Leyhane engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor” because “Father Leyhane is not alive to respond to the allegations.” The cardinal agreed “with the Review Board’s concern to protect [Leyhane’s] good name and reputation.”
Almost two decades passed before Terry learned that the archdiocese had not substantiated Leyhane’s abuse of him. Terry knew that was the case because he discovered that the priest’s name did not appear on the archdiocese’s public list of substantiated child sex abusers. Terry contacted the archdiocese upon that realization and asked for a meeting with Cardinal Blase Cupich. He received no response, so he suggested a short phone conversation with the cardinal instead. He was promised the message would be passed along, but again there was no response. Thus began a long back-and-forth between Terry and archdiocesan officials during which the church’s response to Terry’s prior report of abuse took center stage.
Archdiocesan officials told Terry the church had not investigated his claim back in 2001 because of its general policy not to investigate claims against deceased priests. That is false. In fact, at the time, the archdiocese’s policies provided an allegation against a deceased priest “shall be processed in the same manner as any other allegation.” But the review board did not follow its policies. Instead, it ignored the damning supporting evidence in the archdiocese’s own records, which showed another survivor had reported Leyhane’s abuse in October 1994; he too detailed Leyhane’s “hard kissing on the mouth” and the smell of tobacco. And in the time since, more survivors had come forward—one in April 2004, another in March 2006, and four more in November 2007, December 2007, July 2008, and September 2008. Many of these survivors asked the same question Terry had: “Did he do it to others?”
Through it all, the archdiocese’s documents bear out its revictimization of survivors. In one poignant communication to the archdiocese, a survivor wrote “my family has suffered, and [the abuse] has damaged my relationship with my wife. Is there any advice you can give…?” The archdiocese responded callously: “It sounds as though you are doing what you need to continue on your own road to healing with your family.”
Worse, the archdiocese misled Leyhane’s survivors. In April 2004, a survivor asked if other child sex abuse claims had been made against the priest. At the time, the archdiocese knew of two other reports, including Terry’s. Nevertheless, the archdiocese responded that its records “provide no reasonable cause to suspect Fr. Leyhane ever engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor” (emphasis added). When the Attorney General’s investigators questioned this seemingly false statement, archdiocesan officials insisted it was accurate because the review board had not, by that time, determined there was “reasonable cause to believe” Leyhane was an abuser. Maybe so, but a survivor reading that response could only have concluded one thing—no other reports of abuse had been made—leaving the survivor to believe he was the only one Leyhane abused, wondering what he did to cause Leyhane to choose him, and him alone.
For almost two decades, the archdiocese failed to treat Terry with the dignity and respect he deserves. His requests for direct communications with Cardinal Cupich have been ignored. His request that his claim be reopened for further review (something specifically provided for in archdiocesan policies) was denied. And while archdiocesan officials tell Terry “we have no reason not to believe” Leyhane abused you, he understands that such careful phrasing is a far cry from the review board finding the accusation credible and putting Leyhane’s name on the archdiocese’s public list of abusers.
And to address the archdiocese’s objection that a deceased priest cannot defend himself against charges, Terry repeatedly offered the solution of the review board erring on the side of assuming the deceased priest will categorically deny the accusation, and even deny knowing the survivor. The review board can then listen to the survivor’s version of events and decide, based upon all it knows of the deceased priest, which is the more credible version. The archdiocese saw no merit in Terry’s proposed solution.
All of which brings us back to where we began, with Terry gaining some peace in knowing Leyhane has finally been publicly disclosed as a child sex abuser—now named on the archdiocese’s public list. Based on experience, he believes this can help other possible victims of Leyhane come forward for healing. Terry’s reflections on the entire ordeal are that “as bad as the abuse was, it has also been very traumatic to deal with the Chicago archdiocese. Why don’t they err on the side of the victim? They instead err on the side of protecting the reputation of a deceased priest.” Regardless, Terry’s “relationship is with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.” He says his “faith is in them and their unwavering love.” And for Terry, that is sufficient.