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Parish Torn over Fate of Priest Tied to Sex Case

By Jeffrey Bils
Chicago Tribune
March 5, 1997

A routine church school board meeting turned into a cauldron of controversy Tuesday night as about 200 Winnetka parishioners showed up to debate accepting a priest with a history of sexual contact with teenagers.

Rev. Thomas Swade was removed from St. Dorothy Catholic Church, 450 E. 78th St., Chicago, in 1992 after six people stepped forward with allegations of sexual touching and other acts.

Now, Swade may be reinstated at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Catholic Church, 191 Linden St., Winnetka.

"My reaction was, 'Let's take the high road and give this man a second chance,' " said Eileen Pope, a Wilmette resident who attended the meeting.

"From what they're explaining, he's not even going to be around the children," said Pope, a parishioner of 15 years with six children, including two in the church school. "I will be humiliated for this parish if this (reinstatement) doesn't fly."

However, Mary Ashenden of Wilmette said: "Why put him in a situation where he could be questioned again? I don't think it's fair to him or fair to the parish."

Parishioners who attended the meeting, which was closed to the news media, said the audience appeared to be evenly divided between those supporting Swade and those opposing his reinstatement.

Kathy Rothschild, a parishioner with two daughters in the church school and an outspoken opponent of Swade's appointment, said, "We have nothing personal against Father Swade . . . but we are not in the business of running a rehabilitation center for priests."

"Our first responsibility is to our children," Rothschild said.

School Principal Wally Marzec said he hasn't made up his mind on the issue, and added he would have to take into consideration the reaction of parents and staff members.

"The natural reaction would be to be skeptical at first," Marzec said. "We have come nowhere near to making a decision. . . . The utmost concern of all of us is the safety of the kids."

A final decision on reinstating Swade is expected from the Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Parish Council within the next two weeks.

If Swade is reinstated, it would be only the second time that the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has done so since 1992, when Cardinal Joseph Bernardin established a new policy to deal with the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

The allegations against Swade stem from his involvement in Link Unlimited, a private, not-for-profit organization he founded in 1966 to match inner-city African-American teens with mentors who provide financial and personal help.

In 1992, a 25-year-old former Link student said Swade engaged in inappropriate sexual activity with him when he was 14.

This contact included sexual touching and showering together on one occasion, said Rev. Tom Ventura, pastor of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Parish.

The board of directors of Link Unlimited sent copies of a letter to more than 1,000 students who had been involved in the program during the previous 25 years to track down any other allegations. Five more people stepped forward.

According to a letter that Ventura mailed to his parishioners last week, three said Swade "hugged them inappropriately," one said she had seen Swade "emerge from his bathroom unclothed," and one complained of "improper touches in a swimming pool."

Swade was placed on paid administrative leave and underwent counseling, Ventura said.

He has been evaluated at the University of Chicago Clinic, the St. Louis Consultation Center and the Isaac Ray Center in Chicago. The findings indicate Swade is not a pedophile and is not a danger to children, Ventura said.

The process to reinstate Swade began in May 1995 when Swade petitioned Bernardin and received permission to apply to a review board.

The archdiocese released a written statement that said, in part, "Cardinal Bernardin had expressed his hope that Father Swade might be returned to ministry, as long as he was returned to ministry in accordance with the recommendations of the independent review board." Bernardin died last year.

The review board recommended that Swade be reinstated, with the strict requirement that he will not have contact with minors without another adult present, said Bob Quakenbush, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Swade would live at the Winnetka parish but be director of the archdiocese's Ethnic Ministries Office in Chicago. He would say mass and administer the sacraments in Winnetka.

Swade has been living in a retreat house at the Seminary of St. Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein, Ventura said. He could not be reached for comment.

Swade and Ventura were classmates at Mundelein, where they were both ordained in 1961.

Most Winnetka parishioners were unaware of the proposal to reinstate Swade at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity until Ventura sent out his Feb. 26 letter.

But before that, Ventura said, there had been extensive meetings between Swade and the parish leadership.

The Parish Pastoral Council, the School Board and the Religious Education Board have recommended moving forward with the reinstatement, Ventura said.

"Now, he realizes how stupid it was to do those things," Ventura said, "but at the time, he didn't think it was any big thing, and he wasn't trying to get sexual gratification.

"Later, when Father Swade was in therapy, he came to realize what was happening there, that his own suppressed sexual needs or sexual development was unconsciously coming into play there, without him being aware of it.

"He's got a very different head on his shoulders now than he had in those days."

Tribune reporter Steve Kloehn contributed to this article.

 
 

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