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Ex-Priest Gets Five More Years

By Shamus Toomey
Chicago Daily Herald
February 7, 2003

A federal judge on Thursday tacked five more years onto the child pornography prison sentence of a former Roman Catholic priest from a Wheeling church, raising the admitted child molester's total punishment to 20 years.

The overall sentence imposed on Vincent McCaffrey, 50, is believed to be the longest ever given to someone convicted of possessing lewd images of children, prosecutors said.

U.S. District Judge John Darrah had sentenced the disgraced former priest to 15 years last week but corrected himself Thursday by ruling a related five-year prison sentence for receiving child pornography must be stacked atop the longer term.

Darrah had ruled last week the two sentences should be served at the same time. But, at the urging of prosecutors, he decided he was legally obligated to stack the sentences because of his own previous rulings that McCaffrey's sordid criminal past demanded a longer prison term.

Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk, who prosecuted the case, praised the judge's decision. A visibly upset Thomas J. Royce, McCaffrey's attorney, said he was disappointed but declined to publicly criticize the ruling.

Royce had previously argued in court papers that federal law allows a judge to correct a sentence only if there was an "arithmetical, technical or other clear error." Royce argued a judge can't correct a sentence based on a change of heart. He also claimed prosecutors were taking "a second bite of the apple."

McCaffrey, who has been in custody since last June, showed no emotion when the extra five years were added. With good behavior, his earliest chance of release will come when he's 67 years old.

The former priest was arrested after authorities busted a New Zealand-based child porn Internet site last year. McCaffrey's name was found on a subscribers list, and U.S. Customs agents raided his Chicago condo. They found thousands of images of children in sex acts, with some photos found tucked under McCaffrey's mattress and some found in a cupboard.

McCaffrey immediately told agents he was a former priest and was in therapy to treat an addiction to young boys. He claimed viewing the photos was his way of avoiding molesting children.

Funk, the prosecutor, dug into McCaffrey's past and found dozens of victims who claimed McCaffrey had either fondled or raped them when they were children and he was their parish priest. The abuse happened in the 1970s and 1980s at churches around the area, including at St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling between 1982 to 1987.

Five of McCaffrey's victims, including two from St. Joseph, angrily testified against him during a sentencing hearing last month. Some were telling their stories publicly for the first time. Others had reported the abuse and later complained that the Archdiocese of Chicago allowed McCaffrey to change parishes after undergoing therapy. Church officials say they followed the church protocol of the time and later forced McCaffrey to resign when that protocol changed in the early 1990s.

On the witness stand last month, McCaffrey admitted molesting at least 14 young boys when he was a priest. He said he couldn't pinpoint the exact number because he had molested so many. He also testified he didn't force himself on anyone. Darrah later ruled that was untrue and slapped an obstruction of justice enhancement to the sentence.

McCaffrey was never prosecuted for the abuse, and the statute of limitations has expired on the cases. But prosecutors, under federal sentencing laws, were able to introduce the uncharged crimes as a reason to hike McCaffrey's pornography sentence. Had McCaffrey been charged with child porn under state laws, he would have faced a far lighter punishment.

McCaffrey's victims have praised Funk for delivering justice that McCaffrey escaped for years. Funk said the government was pleased with the sentence.

"This is an extraordinary case involving dozens of victims who were sexually abused on hundreds of occasions over decades," Funk said. "This is the first time McCaffrey has ever been held accountable for these acts in any courthouse in America."

 
 

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