Mom: We Did Speak about Abuse

By Cathleen Falsani and Stefano Esposito
Chicago Sun-Times
February 7, 2006

The mother of a Willowbrook boy allegedly molested by a Chicago priest is lashing out at Cardinal Francis George for suggesting she was reluctant to come forward to plead her son's case.

"I don't want the cardinal saying that my family didn't contact the archdiocese," the boy's mother, who requested anonymity to protect her son's identity, told the Chicago Sun-Times.

At issue is how and when the Willowbrook boy's family contacted officials of the Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese with allegations against the Rev. Daniel McCormack, pastor of St. Agatha parish in North Lawndale, where the boy attended parochial school in 2003.

The mother said she called the archdiocese to report the allegations within days of learning of the abuse and going to police in late August, while the archdiocese says it first heard from the mother by phone in mid-September.

Filed police report

George has publicly characterized the boy's family as not wanting to come forward for more meetings.

"I think they're liars, that's what I think," the Willowbrook mother said. "They're totally responsible for the circus that's in my house right now."

The mother says McCormack fondled her son's genitals once or twice a week for about three weeks in December 2003.

Late last August, the boy, now 11, told his parents that when he was alone with McCormack helping to set up for school breakfasts, the priest would molest him. After their son's tearful confession, the Willowbrook mother and father went to a Chicago police station to file a report, the mother said.

No charges at first

About five days later -- sometime during the first week of September -- she called the archdiocese to report the abuse, the mother said.

Last month, Cook County prosecutors charged McCormack, 37, with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault for allegedly fondling the Willowbrook boy and a second boy between September 2001 and January 2005. Last week, prosecutors charged the priest with a third count of aggravated criminal sexual assault for allegedly molesting an 8-year-old Chicago boy as recently as last month.

George has known about sexual abuse allegations against McCormack since last August when Chicago Police brought the priest in for questioning. At the time, authorities did not believe they had sufficient evidence to press charges against McCormack.

Rather than removing McCormack from St. Agatha, George left the priest in ministry with instructions not to be alone with children and appointed another priest to monitor his behavior.

In a Jan. 28 press conference, George said he didn't remove McCormack sooner because the family of the Willowbrook boy had "not come forward" with their allegations against the priest. Without them the canonical process to remove a pastor from his parish could not be set in motion, he said.

"We didn't know what the allegation was, we didn't know who the young child was who was the alleged victim. We simply knew that [McCormack] was taken in for questioning and released," George told reporters. "At one point there was a telephone conversation with the mother. She asked a few questions and said, 'No, it's not time to come forward.' "

Not so, said the Willowbrook boy's mother, who told the Sun-Times she talked to archdiocesan officials on at least three occasions in September -- twice by phone, and once in person at a meeting with a teacher and the principal of Our Lady of the Westside School on the campus of St. Agatha. Calls to the school seeking comment were not returned.

The mother insists she placed her first call to the archdiocese after looking up the telephone number on the Internet a few days after she and her husband reported the alleged abuse to police. She says an operator at the archdiocese's Pastoral Center transferred her call to the archdiocese's Office of Professional Responsibility, which handles allegations of abuse against priests, and that she spoke to its director, Leah McCluskey.

"I called and told her in detail about the crime. She seemed to be very upset about it. She seemed to be very compassionate and understanding," the mother said of McCluskey.

McCluskey did not return calls seeking comment, but a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, Colleen Dolan, said McCluskey adamantly denies having a conversation with the Willowbrook mother in early September.

'I don't see where the lie is'

Both the mother and McCluskey, according to Dolan, agree they had a phone conversation on Sept. 15 in which McCluskey offered to pay for and arrange counseling for the boy, but his mother said she wanted to take care of those arrangements on her own.

"I don't think we're lying. I don't see where the lie is," Dolan said.

Dolan confirmed a meeting between the Willowbrook mother and the principal of Our Lady of the Westside took place on campus after the school year had begun 2005, but said the principal only told archdiocesan officials about the meeting two weeks ago.

Attempts by the archdiocese to arrange further in-person meetings with the Willowbrook family have been unsuccessful, Dolan said.

Last week, the cardinal apologized for not removing McCormack last summer.

"I have to do what I can for my son to show him that if you're honest and you come forward, justice will prevail," the Willowbrook boy's mother said. "This is not going to break him. I'm not going to let it."


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