Arrest of Chicago Priest Renews Abuse Concerns
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The Archdiocese of Chicago says it was caught off guard by allegations of recent clergy sex abuse. The church is being criticized for failing to remove a priest from parish ministry after it learned of the alleged abuse. It says guidelines to prevent such abuse were largely designed to deal with incidents that took place years ago.
Chicago Public Radio's Jason DeRose reports.
JASON DEROSE reporting:
Thirty-seven year old Roman Catholic Priest Daniel McCormack is charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault for allegedly fondling three young boys at St. Agatha Parish on Chicago's west side. The abuse allegedly took place between 2001 and late last year.
The first allegation came to light last August, the second and third allegations just weeks ago. But McCormack wasn't removed from parish ministry until the later allegations. And the most recent victim alleges abuse took place after the Archdiocese had already learned of earlier abuse, and had placed another priest in the parish to monitor McCormack.
Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, says he acted according to the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children, but he says those rules, along with canon law, were insufficient for abuse taking place now.
Archbishop FRANCIS GEORGE (Chicago): And I should have found at least some fashion in the canon's to remove, provisionally, Father McCormack. I take responsibility for not doing that, and I'm saddened by my own failure, very much so.
DEROSE: But George's admission came only after the Archdiocese spent more than a week defending its actions. Chicago Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lego says the church only heard about the first case through the police and not through the victim, and he says that stalled an internal investigation.
Mr. JIM LEGO (Chicago Archdiocese): Our process starts when we get an allegation. And if the victim cannot or will not come forward, if the supporting family cannot and will not come forward, we have no information on which to go on, other than the little that we were told by the investigation officers.
Ms. BARBARA BLAINE (SNAP): What in God's name was Cardinal George thinking by not removing that man immediately?
DEROSE: Barbara Blaine is the president and founder of the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Ms. BLAINE: Of all the years of all the cover ups, and all the embarrassment, the pain and the anguish, why on earth would Cardinal George not err on the side of protecting the children?
DEROSE: Attorney Joseph Klest, who's represented more than 100 victims of clergy sex abuse, says leaving McCormack in place after the church learned of the first allegation is negligent and reckless.
Mr. JOSEPH KLEST (Attorney): It would certainly increase their liability phenomenally if he molested anyone else after they left him in place. And it would open the door wide to punitive damages.
DEROSE: In the summer of 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children, which required background checks for anyone who works with the children, and implemented a process for reviewing claims of sexual abuse. The Charter also created a national lay review board to oversee the internal reforms.
Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke is a former member of that board.
Hon. ANNE BURKE (Illinois Appellate Court): Clearly, the spirit of the Charter that the bishops pledged and vowed to respond to was to protect children, at all costs.
DEROSE: Anne Burke says by not removing McCormack at the time of the first allegation, the Archdiocese of Chicago failed in its duty to protect children; even minimally.
Hon. BURKE: Having discretion to do what they wanted to do or to bypass what the Charter said is what got the church into this trouble in the first place. So I'm very troubled that nothing much has changed.
DEROSE: The Archdiocese of Chicago now expects to release revamped guidelines for dealing with clergy sex abuse early next week. These, it says, will take into account the fact that not all abuse took place in the distant past, but that some priests today continue to sexually abuse children.
For NPR News, I'm Jason DeRose, in Chicago.