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  S. Side Pastor Vows Appeal If Removed
Priest Says He Would Take Case to the Vatican

By Jeff Coen and Sean D. Hamill
Chicago Tribune
June 17, 2002

His ministry threatened by the new, rigid sex abuse policy adopted by U.S. bishops at their conference last week, Rev. John Calicott on Sunday pledged to appeal to Rome if he is removed as pastor of Holy Angels Catholic Church.

The Calicott case has emerged as the first challenge of how the national policy will work in Chicago. The bishops have voted that all priests with any substantiated incidents of abuse should be withdrawn from public ministry, turning the attention of Cardinal Francis George to Calicott and six other Chicago archdiocesan priests who have maintained church posts despite accusations of sexually abusing children.

Calicott, 54, said he hopes to be the exception to the new rule.

"I don't care what people say, I don't care what people try to do," said Calicott, who declined to comment Sunday on the specifics of the allegations against him. "I know my heart."

Standing on the lawn of the South Side church in the 600 block of East Oakwood Boulevard with some of the 100 parishioners who had attended mass, Calicott said church leaders need to look at the circumstances surrounding each case individually.

"I do not believe the solution is [to treat] every case the same," he said.

The charismatic pastor was removed from Holy Angels in 1994 after the archdiocese substantiated claims of sexual misconduct involving two 15-year-old boys in 1976 at another parish. He was restored to his post in 1995 by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin after he received counseling, agreed to be monitored and promised never to be alone with a child.

Bernardin said he believed Calicott was not a threat to children if he continued the therapy.

That should be good enough for today's bishops, Holy Angels leaders said Sunday. To remove Calicott again would constitute a kind of double jeopardy and break the parish's heart, they said.

"I think the church has an obligation to live up to the agreement it made to allow him to be here," said retiree Gregory Callaway, 67, a parishioner for 12 years. "It would be a shame if they abrogated that."

Parish leaders and parishioners said Sunday they want Calicott to remain at Holy Angels.

Calicott's monitor, Rev. Bob Miller, called the pastor "marvelous" and trustworthy, and said he has done nothing to warrant suspicion during the past seven years.

"I'm strongly hopeful there will be no diminished role for him whatsoever," said Miller, who added that he spoke with George on Saturday to describe Calicott's case and forward the parish's support of him.

"I told the cardinal that we're very hopeful," Miller said.

In addition to Calicott, three accused archdiocesan priests work in parishes and three others have been placed in administrative positions, church officials have said. All are in mandated monitoring programs.

George said again Sunday that he will meet with the seven priests and review their status. The priests "will have to go through the process" set by the nation's bishops in Dallas, he said.

After presiding at a 75th anniversary mass Sunday at St. Giles in Oak Park, George said he spoke with Calicott by phone Saturday night after he left the bishops' meeting.

During his homily, Calicott said the new policy that threatens his future was adopted after much "fussing and fighting" and leaves much to interpretation. "I'm not sure even the bishops understand the policy right now," he said.

Calicott lost his composure during his Father's Day message, as he described men whose circumstances cause them to feel as if they are burdened with the weight of the world. A pastor feels the same, he said, when "his name [is] vilified and put in the same category as pedophiles."

During his homily at St. Giles, George compared the reporters and photographers who followed him into the church to the government spies he encountered while preaching in communist Poland.

George said he had drawn on that experience in Chicago when reporters covered his homilies in local parishes, then he asked photographers to leave, and reporters too, unless they turned off their tape recorders and stopped taking notes.

A smattering of applause came from the parishioners, and a few photographers left, but reporters stayed.

George met with reporters before and after services, but barely mentioned the bishops' meeting during his homily.

"I don't preach to give messages about public events," he said. "Those are 10 or 15 minutes [during the homily] that are special to me."

 
 

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