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  Sex-Case Priest to Be Reinstated

By Susan Dodge and Gary Wisby
Chicago Sun-Times
March 5, 1997

A Roman Catholic parish in Winnetka struggled Tuesday with the issue of whether to welcome a priest accused of sexual misconduct and removed from his South Side parish in 1992.

The Rev. Thomas J. Swade was placed on administrative leave from St. Dorothy Roman Catholic Church, 450 E. 78th, in June, 1992, by the Archdiocese of Chicago after a 25-year-old male parishioner accused him of improper touching when the parishioner was 14. No criminal charges were filed.

Now the archdiocese has approved Swade as director of the ethnic ministries office at its downtown headquarters and recommended that he live at Saints Faith, Hope and Charity Parish in Winnetka. He would assist with sacramental duties but have no contact with young people.

Where Swade will live is up to Faith, Hope and Charity's pastor, the Rev. Thomas Ventura, and the parish's 11-member council. Ventura, who favors the move, said a decision will be made within two weeks.

Ventura said he and Swade attended seminary together, and both were ordained in 1961.

At an emotional but orderly meeting Tuesday night, about 175 parishioners aired the issue. Ventura said they were split about 50-50, but the larger church community "is overwhelmingly for Father Swade to come."

After Swade's removal from St. Dorothy, five other people accused him of sexual misconduct.

It was the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin's wish that Swade be given a chance to return to the ministry, a letter from Ventura to parishioners said.

Swade has been in a rehabilitation program for four years, the letter said. Evaluations conducted at the University of Chicago Clinic and two other centers concluded that Swade "is not a pedophile; he is not a danger to children," the letter said. It said Swade's actions seemed "to have resulted from very poor judgment, naivete and a basic lack of awareness."

Swade could not be reached for comment.

A group that works with victims of clerical abuse criticized Swade's return. "Sending him back to a parish is just too much of a risk," said Tom Economus, president of Linkup, Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse.

Reporters were barred from Tuesday's parish meeting, but questioned parishioners as they left.

"I'm pro giving (Swade) a second chance, but not in an environment with children," said Mary Ashenden. "I don't think a second-grader should be forewarned they should avoid a priest. It's hypocritical -- they are taught that you should trust a priest."

Ashenden said she won't enroll her children, ages 2 and 3, in the parish school if Swade lives there. "There's lots of other parishes," she said.

John Parmer, a co-founder with Swade of Lincoln Ltd., which raises tuition funds for South Side children, supports his move to Winnetka.

"He's changed the lives of over 1,000 black kids on the South Side," Parmer said. "Most have gone on to college, and now are doctors, lawyers and professional people."

For Eileen Pope, who has two kids in the parish school, it came down to her feelings about Ventura, who will decide the issue. "Everyone trusts father," she said. "He wouldn't be talking about this unless it was something he felt comfortable about."

 
 

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