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Issue Date:  March 31, 2006

Report: No effective monitoring in Chicago


Eighteen Chicago archdiocese “accused priest abusers” live at church-owned facilities under an “honor code” system where their activities and whereabouts are largely unsupervised. Some have regular access to children and other vulnerable people, such as nursing home residents.

Those are among the findings of a 58-page report commissioned by Cardinal Francis George following revelations that a prominent parish pastor was allowed to remain in ministry for more than four months following allegations of sexual abuse. The priest, Fr. Daniel McCormack, served as pastor of St. Agatha Parish on Chicago’s west side and as a coach and teacher at the parochial school it shares with two other parishes.

Following the August accusation against McCormack, George rejected a recommendation from an archdiocesan review board that the priest be removed as pastor of St. Agatha. Instead, another priest -- who lived at the rectory but whose ministerial duties were elsewhere -- was assigned to act as a “monitor” for the accused priest.

McCormack, who reportedly took three boys on a Labor Day trip out of the state, was arrested in January and charged with molesting three boys. Officials at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary were aware of accusations of sexual misconduct against McCormack as far back as 1992, said the report. Five additional complaints against McCormack have been filed with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (NCR, March 3).

Archdiocesan “monitors” -- three priests, two nuns, and a deacon -- received little if any training on how to carry out their tasks and had virtually no experience dealing with sexual abusers, according to the report. “An effective monitoring system geared toward reducing the further sexual victimization perpetrated by accused priest abusers does not exist,” said the report, written by Loyola University professor Terry Childers.

“Instead,” the report continued, “there exists an ‘honor system’ wherein the accused priest abusers are presumed to be truthful, live in relative anonymity in unrestricted environments, enjoy unlimited and unrestricted movements, and suffer little if any consequences for failing to comply with archdiocesan monitoring protocols.”

The report said that school officials suspicious of McCormack’s behavior failed to report him to the authorities, in violation of Illinois law and the bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth.

At a March 20 news conference George expressed regret over the handling of the McCormack case.

“For the many missteps in responding to the accusations of sexual abuse of minors by Father McCormack, I accept responsibility,” said George. “For the tragedy of allowing children to be in the presence of a priest against whom an accusation of sexual abuse had been made, I am truly sorry. I should have focused more clearly on the actions we needed to take and I should have taken them more quickly.”

George continued, “For not following the advice of our independent Professional Responsibility Review Board to remove Father McCormack temporarily, even without a judgment about his actions, I am deeply sorry.”

George said the archdiocese would take steps to reform its procedures for dealing with accused priests.

Apologies and pledges to reform were not enough for some critics.

“Apologizing protects no one,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP. “New committees protect no one. Only courage and honesty protect kids. That’s been lacking in the Chicago Catholic hierarchy. It’s still lacking.” SNAP has called on George to resign.

As part of its response to the McCormack uproar, the archdiocese released on its Web site the names of priests with “substantiated allegations” of abuse dating back to 1950.

National Catholic Reporter, March 31, 2006

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