In May of 2002, the Rev. Donald O'Connor was relieved from his parish after the Catholic Diocese of Joliet in Illinois substantiated allegations of sexual abuse that occurred between 1967 and 1970, according to The Chicago Tribune.
Yet years after being removed from his position, O'Connor was still getting money from parishioners who had no idea they were paying an accused pedophile to pray for them, according to a local investigation.
Documents obtained by Chicago ABC affiliate WLS-TV show that mere weeks after O'Connor was barred from the ministry, the disgraced priest was offered a potentially lucrative job performing "mass intentions," a Catholic tradition that allows parishioners to pay priests for a personal prayer.
The payments were offered by Diocese Chancellor Sister Judith A. Davies in a letter sent on June 20, 2002, a month after O'Connor was officially dismissed, WLS-TV reports. If O'Connor was in need of stipends, he should contact Davies' secretary, and "a check will be issued every three months," the letter read, according to the station.
In a statement obtained by WLS-TV, the Diocese of Joliet wrote that priests "who are removed from public ministry because of sexual abuse of minors may not celebrate Mass in public, but they are not prohibited from doing so privately. Like all priests, they may offer a Mass for a specific person or cause, and they may receive the small stipend if one is offered, usually $10."
However, the diocese denied providing "compensation" to abusive priests, according to the statement.
The letter sent from Davies to O'Connor was made public in March as part of a cache of previously confidential files kept by the diocese. The files were made public after the diocese was sued by three abuse victims.
Michael D'Antonio, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, HuffPost blogger and author of "Mortal Sins," a comprehensive history of priest sex abuse in the Catholic Church, told The Huffington Post in an email that he'd never heard of a similar "paid to pray" arrangement between church officials and abusive priests.
"I know of payments made to persuade abusers to leave the priesthood and a pension granted in exchange for retirement," D'Antonio wrote. "However, this is the first I have ever heard of this practice of paying for praying, at least in modern times."
If true, D'Antonio said such an arrangement seems like "a spiritually destructive notion, where victims, their families, and many ordinary Catholics are concerned. Victims would especially resent being in the thoughts, let alone the prayers, of anyone associated with abuse."
The lawsuit against the diocese resulted in the release of priest personnel files, an apology from diocese officials and an undisclosed monetary settlement for one of the victims, according to a statement from Joliet Bishop Daniel Conlon.
O'Connor's file contained both letters of support from his parishioners and some graphic accounts of abuse alleged by victims. In one instance, a victim said O'Connor fondled him after they played a game of cards in their underwear.
In total, the diocese released thousands of pages of documents, according to the Joliet Herald News. After Circuit Court Judge Michael Powers had the files made public on March 13, nine priests were added to the diocese list of priests facing credible or substantiated accusations of abuse bringing the total to 34, the report notes.
According to a recent report by the Chicago Sun-Times, five new lawsuits have been brought against the Diocese of Joliet. The victims came forward soon after the diocese released the files.