By Jay Levine

(CBS) — The common link among all the Roman Catholic priests, whose records of alleged sexual abuse were released yesterday, is that they all reported to the Archbishop of Chicago.

Four Archbishops, who’ve led the Archdiocese from the late 1950’s until now had the final say and unquestioned authority over all personnel decisions.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports time after time, the secret files show them agonizing over whether or not a charge was credible, giving even those who admitted wrongdoing, a second chance.

One of the earliest reports goes all the way back to 1958 when Albert Cardinal Meyer was told about Father Marion Snieg sexually abusing two young boys.

30 years later, in a letter to Cardinal Bernardin, retired bishop Raymond Goedert, then serving as Vicar for priests, said “I suspect we all just lost track of it.”

And a Bernardin letter to Snieg three years later said, “I will do everything in my power to see that you will be able to exercise ministry because you have done so well in the past.”

One of the saddest stories involves a pair of predatory priests, Robert Becker and Kenneth Ruge who shared young victims with each other.

Becker actually confessed to Cardinal Bernardin in 1986, and was placed on sick leave. Six months later, Bernardin agreed to “talk with Father Gerald Kicanas about teaching a course part-time,” at the seminary in Mundelein.

It was one of several times Cardinal Bernardin chosen to return predators to ministry rather than keeping them away from children.

Thomas Swade was removed from ministry after several credible allegations of sexual misconduct. Yet just 4 years later, Bernardin promised to “…do everything in his power to see that Swade will return to ministry….to give Swade a second chance.”

Back in 1981, John Cardinal Cody wrote he was “…certain (Father Vincent) McCaffery will soon be able to return to fine priestly work.”

And nearly 20 years after that, Cardinal Bernardin apparently agreed, “appointing him Associate Pastor at St. Josephat, (but) asking him to keep in touch with the Vicar for Priests on a regular basis.”

Several years later, Bernardin realized he’d made a mistake, demanding his resignation but agreeing to pay McCaffery 81 thousand dollars to ease the transition.

It took Bernardin less than 2 years after Father Joseph Fitzharris’ 1987 conviction of criminal sexual abuse of a minor, to agree to Fitzharris’ return to ministry.

Fitzharris resigned in 1995 and later admitted having sex with 9 boys

And the list went on and on, spanning decades, and terms of Archbishops. Father Kenneth Bridham was mysteriously reassigned by Cardinal Cody in 1966, By ’72 a report to the Cardinal said Brigham was “being treated like any other priest who is sick.”

Cardinal Bernardin “promised he would take action.” But didn’t.

In 2007, despite reports that Brigham was “part of a sex ring with other priests” Cardinal George said there was “not sufficient evidence for further investigation.”

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