At the time, Kaffer was talking to alleged Mullins victims, one of whom told him that boys at the Cathedral of St. Raymond School in Joliet commonly referred to Mullins as "Gacy," a reference to John Wayne Gacy, who abducted, molested and murdered at least 33 teenage boys in the 1970s. The nickname was based on Mullins' alleged habit of sticking his hands down the trunks of basketball team members, according to the documents.

When the disagreement over Mullins reached an impasse, a frustrated Kaffer wrote that he took the extraordinary measure of going around Imesch and consulting the Chicago Archdiocese's Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

Kaffer wrote in a memo: "From the situation as I presented it, (Bernardin) agrees with me, and suggested I go to (Imesch) one more time to state my disagreement in conscience on this matter. I told him I would have no difficulty telling Bp. Imesch I consulted him, if he has no objection. He has none. So I did. Bishop Imesch will talk to the Cardinal."

Mullins was removed from ministry.

The second instance of intervention from the Chicago Archdiocese occurred in December 2002, when, records show, Cardinal Francis George inquired about the handling of an allegation nearly 30 years earlier. The victim, George Knotek, first reported the abuse in 1975 to Auxiliary Bishop Raymond Vonesh, who responded by sending the Rev. Donald Pock, then pastor at Divine Savior Parish in Downers Grove, for alcohol treatment and allowed him to return to ministry, the records show.

The diocese kept Pock's secret until another man — a priest from Minnesota — came forward in March 2002 and accused Pock of sexually abusing him when he was a teen, records show. The Minnesota priest also had told the diocese about Knotek's earlier allegation, but he said he did not know what happened to Knotek.

In the months that followed, the diocese made minimal effort to locate Knotek and did not reach out to him until George intervened with an apology, the records indicate.

"I am pained myself to learn of the abuse that you have suffered from a priest of the Church and the way in which what you had to say was so badly received," George wrote in December 2002. "The questions that you put to me in your letter I cannot answer, but I will ask for information from the Diocese of Joliet."

The Joliet Diocese later found the allegations against Pock credible and removed him from ministry in 2002. He died two years later.

Knotek filed a lawsuit in 2004 and settled out of court before receiving Pock's personnel file, so he was not privy to the sequence of events, his attorney Marc Pearlman said.

"The reason this is still an issue a decade later is because the diocese hasn't come out and told the entire truth," Pearlman said. "They let this thing out in dribs and drabs."

Diocesan officials said they have done everything they can to clean up the problem.

"We can't change what happened," said diocese spokesman James Dwyer. "We can understand emotionally why someone would want to bring it up and strike back at the church, and if that's cathartic for them, so be it. Our concern is to move forward and show that we are serious about making sure mistakes of the past are not repeated."

The documents also detail the diocese's long-held practice of moving accused priests to other parishes or sending them on out-of-state assignments in response to allegations. Some received therapy at church-sanctioned facilities, while others simply met with a local doctor.

The records show that the Rev. Philip Dedera faced a steady stream of allegations over the course of more than two decades in the diocese, even as Imesch and his predecessor transferred the priest from parish to parish. In the mid-1990s they removed him from a parish in Momence and sent him to a treatment center for sexual disorders in St. Louis. When Imesch and Kaffer placed him in a job at Edward Hospital in Naperville in 1998, Kaffer told him to seek advice about his new post from the Rev. Gary Berthiaume, whom the diocese had made a chaplain at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

Berthiaume, an old acquaintance of Imesch, had served prison time in Michigan for a child molestation conviction in 1977. Imesch has acknowledged that he was aware of his friend's past when he brought him to the Joliet Diocese.

When the priest scandal engulfed the church in the spring of 2002, Imesch was forced to remove several priests from ministry, including Dedera. The move drew a pointed response from the head chaplain at Edward, who wrote a letter to Kaffer citing feelings of "anger and betrayal" that Imesch placed Dedera at the hospital without informing her of his problems.

"What troubles me most is the stance of the Catholic Church about these matters. Why is it that when priests are involved in alcoholism and/or sexual misconduct, the church gets help for them and makes the determination that they are not fit for the parish? But the church turns around and makes the judgment that they are suited for ministry in the hospitals and nursing homes (supposedly because they are more supervised). Yet such places are filled with vulnerable people," wrote the Rev. Shelly Bergstrom, a Baptist minister. "This makes no sense to me and the practice should stop."

Dedera declined comment Wednesday.

It's stories like these that David Rudofski, 38, hoped to expose as he fought for the diocese files. He hasn't read them all yet — he can only read the records for about 10 minutes before putting them down in disgust and anger — but he knows the cases aren't dissimilar from his own.