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Fr George Clements subject of abuse claim settled by Chicago archdiocese

After being partially cleared of an allegation following his death in 2019, a pioneering Black priest in Chicago is again the subject of a child sex abuse case.

Clements with children in 1981. (Tony Suau)

CHICAGO — Fr George Clements, the late African-American priest known for his Civil Rights activism and liturgical innovation, has once again been accused of sexual abuse from the 1970s involving a minor—part of a settlement paid this year by the Archdiocese of Chicago in the amount of $800,000.

Clements was previously the subject of abuse allegations from two men in 2019, both of which were ruled “unfounded” by local government officials due to their not involving any current child victims at the time of the investigation. Clements, who was placed on leave, died that November before the investigation was completed.

Only part of the newly revealed settlement—roughly $100,000—concerns Clements, who is alleged to have abused another boy over the course of 5 years at Holy Angels Catholic Church, where Clements served from 1969 to 1991. The abuse allegedly began when the boy was just 7 years old.

The archdiocese, which did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement, paid the funds in February. The case was revealed publicly only after its documents were emailed to local reporters.

One source who has spoken out this week is Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston-based attorney known for his portrayal by Stanley Tucci in the Oscar-winning 2015 film “Spotlight”. He was a central figure in the revelation of the groundbreaking sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston, and represented the alleged victim in this most recent case again Clements.

“My client was sexually abused for approximately five years… 1974 to 1979,” Garabedian told local media, “in the rectory of Holy Angels Church, in Father Clements' car and on a camping trip.”

The timeline of the allegations overlaps with the previous claims from 2019, but Garabedian has said that the victims are not the same. He has also criticized the archdiocese for not adding Clements’ name to its list of credibly accused priests, said to be last updated in June 2021.

“It's time for the Archdiocese of Chicago to list Father Clements as being credibly accused and remove any sort of honors that pertain to Father Clements, physical or otherwise; whether it be paintings, insignias, books,” he said.

“The hiding has to stop. The secrecy has to stop.”

Clements was most recently in the news upon the late 2021 release of his autobiography, “Just Don’t Ignore Me”, published by the sons he adopted in 1981—then a first for the United States. The book chronicles his tumultuous tenure as a priest in Chicago during the era of segregation and Civil Rights. He was just the second African American ordained in the history of the archdiocese.

He was known to butt heads with his superiors upon his involvement with the Black Catholic Movement, a Black Power-inspired zeitgeist he helped inspire and which energized African-American Catholics for more than two decades between 1968 and the early 1990s.

Only recently was Clements publicly revealed to have possibly abused children during that time—though he was long known to have had close friendships with abuser-priests alleged to have been part of a child sex ring in Chicago, including the Black priest Kenneth Brigham.

Following his reassignment and the revelation of a “condition”, Brigham went on a trip to the Bahamas with Clements in 1972. He would later serve with Clements at Holy Angels before unsuccessfully attempting to adopt a child in 1981.

Clements’ successor at Holy Angels, Fr John Calicott, was also found to have abused children, while Clements himself had left the parish abruptly in 1991 to relocate once again to the Bahamas, then to Washington, DC.

Concerning this month’s revelations, a representative from the Archdiocese of Chicago has said that it does not “comment on lawsuits, claims, or settlements”.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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