The Archdiocese of Chicago will hand over thousands of pages documenting clergy sex abuse allegations to victims' attorneys who have fought for years to hold the Catholic Church accountable for its handling of such claims.
The files on the nation's third-largest archdiocese will include complaints, personnel documents and other files for about 30 priests with substantiated abuse allegations.
Victims' attorneys next week will make public the documents detailing allegations of crimes concealed and priests assigned to positions that allowed them to continue molesting children.
Holy See accused of failing victims
Disclosures in other US dioceses in recent years have showed how the church shielded priests and failed to report child sex abuse to authorities.
Chicago officials said most of the abuse occurred before 1988 and none after 1996.
"Until there is public disclosure and transparency ... there is no way people can learn about it and make sure it does not happen again," attorney Marc Pearlman, who has represented about 200 abuse victims of clergy abuse in the Chicago area, said on Wednesday.
Cardinal Francis George, who has led the archdiocese since 1997, released a letter to parishioners on Sunday in which he apologised for the abuse and said releasing the records "raises transparency to a new level".
He also stressed that much of the abuse occurred decades ago, before he became archbishop.
George said all of the incidents were reported to civil authorities and resulted in settlements with victims.
The archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle sexual abuse claims, including those against Father Daniel McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2007 to abusing five children while he was a parish priest and a teacher at a Catholic school.
The next year, the archdiocese agreed to pay $12.6m to 16 victims of sexual abuse by priests, including McCormack.
Many of the accused priests are dead, and the documents will include only 30 of 65 priests for whom the archdiocese says it has credible allegations of abuse.
That is because legal settlements that required the disclosures involved just those 30 priests, Pearlman said.
Even so, victims and their lawyers said publicising the documents is crucial to exposing how the archdiocese handled accusations against priests - some of whom were moved from parish to parish after they were accused of molesting children - and to help victims and the Catholic Church as a whole heal and move forward.
Joe Iacono hopes records related to the priest who abused him more than 50 years ago are among those released.
"For me, it's going to empower me again ... and hopefully it will help others out there struggling to come forward and get help," said Iacono, 62, who was abused in the early 1960s while he was a student.