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$85,000 Severance Stuns Ex-Priests
Those who quit with no abuse allegations say they got far less

By Steve Warmbir and Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times
June 19, 2002

While a priest dogged by allegations of abuse got an $85,000 settlement from the archdiocese as he left the church, other departing priests not under a cloud of suspicion said Tuesday they got significantly less.

The financial settlement for Vincent McCaffrey, 49, of Chicago, stunned some former priests. They said they got their salary or health insurance or both paid for several months, at best, after they left the priesthood, often to get married.

"I'm thinking, 'What'd I miss?' " one former priest said of McCaffrey's settlement.

McCaffrey has been charged with having thousands of pages of child pornography on his computer, on three CD-ROMs and on papers stuffed under his mattress. He is being held in Cook County jail without bond and faces another court hearing Thursday.

McCaffrey resigned from the church in 1993. Two years before, he had been removed as associate pastor from Our Lady of Good Counsel in the McKinley Park neighborhood amid allegations of sexually abusing minors before he came to the church. McCaffrey's removal was recommended by a commission set up by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.

An archdiocese spokesman said Tuesday that it agreed to an $85,000 payment to help McCaffrey.

Two-thirds of the money was put into escrow and earmarked to pay for job training and counseling for McCaffrey's sexual addiction to young boys. One-third of the money was for McCaffrey's living expenses for three years.

The payment came to light when investigators initially said they had discovered a signed contract in McCaffrey's condominium describing a $200,000-plus settlement. Investigators had been searching McCaffrey's home in the 6700 block of North Artesian for child porn after receiving information he had subscribed to an overseas child-porn Web site.

The U.S. attorney's office issued a correction Tuesday, saying that the contract that was seized was not signed and was a draft.

Lawyers from the archdiocese met with officials from the U.S. attorney's office on Tuesday to present them with a copy of the actual contract. The archdiocese declined to make the contract public Tuesday, citing a confidentiality agreement.

Also on Tuesday, archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer would not reveal more details on the allegations against McCaffrey, other than to reiterate they involved more than one minor in the early 1980s.

Dwyer said he did not know what the church did to investigate the allegations, when the church learned of them or what, if anything, the church did to help the alleged victims. He was working on gathering that information, he said.

One former priest, Martin Hegarty, who founded a nationwide support group for men leaving the priesthood, said the agreement appeared to be a good financial deal for the church.

If the archdiocese is truly washing its hands of McCaffrey, it could avoid the costs of any continuing care, whether medical or psychological, for McCaffrey, as it is obligated to do for its priests.

Technically, McCaffrey is still a priest, the archdiocese acknowledged Tuesday. He did not go through the formal process to be defrocked. Dwyer, the archdiocese spokesman, did not know why that never happened but stressed that McCaffrey could not perform any priestly duties whatsoever.

Priests who aren't leaving under a cloud typically can get six months of salary and health coverage upon their departure, assistance which started under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Hegarty said.

Some observers praised the archdiocese for paying departing priests. Dr. Domeena Renshaw, a member of the Chicago archdiocese's Professional Review Board, said she was unfamiliar with McCaffrey's case, but in general supports the archdiocese's decision to provide financial support to a former priest--even one accused of abuse--to "help ease him into the commercial world."

And paying priests tainted by allegations is not unheard of. New York's Cardinal Edward Egan signed off on a similar, but smaller, settlement in the late 1980s when he was bishop of Bridgeport, Conn.

Egan agreed to pay the personal debts and living expenses of the Rev. Gavin O'Connor, who was accused of sexually abusing minors in Bridgeport.

O'Connor was living in Tucson, Ariz., when he was offered the payment, said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

"The figure that someone mentioned in court was about $20,000," Zwilling said.

Egan also arranged a financial settlement with a family that sued the archdiocese over O'Connor's conduct. O'Connor was defrocked in July 1989.

Zwilling said the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York sometimes continues to pay the health insurance of a defrocked priest, but only for six months or until he can land a job.

But the New York archdiocese, which Egan now oversees, does not enter into financial settlements such as the one involving McCaffrey in Chicago or O'Connor in Connecticut, Zwilling said.

"This is the first I have heard of something like that outside of the incident in Bridgeport," Zwilling said.

Still, Zwilling called Egan's handling of the O'Connor matter a "textbook example" of how to treat a case of sexual abuse of minors by a priest.

"It is outrageous to suggest anything else," he said.

 
 

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