Accused Priest Lecturing Kids about Sex

By Cathleen Falsani and Ana Mendieta
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
January 22, 2004

Officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago are investigating whether a Chicago priest who was removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage boys has violated church policy by returning to his former parish to talk to groups of Catholic school students about sex.

On several occasions since his removal from ministry in 2002, the Rev. John Calicott, former pastor of Holy Angels parish in the Bronzeville neighborhood, has returned to the parish at the request of his former parishioners to talk to children at Holy Angels School about sexuality, violence, drugs and other issues facing their students, said the Rev. Robert Miller, Holy Angels' current pastor.

"He comes by at the invitation of the staff, principal and teachers to come by and say something to the kids," Miller said. "He has friends, he has family, he comes back, they say hello to him, they say, 'Father John, come in. I want you to sit and talk to the kids; the kids need to hear this. The pregnancy rates are up, gang activity, come on. Talk to the kids about what's important in life.'"

Calicott, 56, said teachers at Holy Angels had asked him to talk to students about sexuality and Catholic moral teaching, something he used to do regularly with the seventh-grade class when he was pastor.

"I'm not going to run from the word 'sex,' " Calicott said. "If a child has a question about sex, I'm going to try to answer it within the context of Catholic sexual morality. I'm not going to run from that.

"I go to mass at Holy Angels Church. If a kid comes up and hugs me, I'm going to hug that kid," he said. "If I thought I was a risk to kids, I wouldn't be in ministry."

While Calicott is never alone with the students on his visits to Holy Name, still "he's not supposed to be doing that," said Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Chicago Archdiocese. "We're going to spend a lot of time [today] trying to figure out what's going on here."

The problem is, according to new church policies passed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002, any priest with even a single credible allegation of sexual misconduct with children against him must be removed permanently from ministry.

The policies, crafted in response to the worst clergy sex abuse scandal in American history, further say that accused priests may not function as clergy, wear priestly garb, serve in any public ministry or celebrate mass publicly.

Calicott is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with two teenage boys almost 30 years ago. Since his removal in summer 2002, Calicott has been living in a "monitored setting" in a retreat house at Mundelein Seminary, archdiocesan officials said.

Calicott, who has appealed his removal from ministry to the Vatican, does have permission to attend mass at Holy Angels, Dwyer said.

"He does not dress as a priest, he's not acting as a priest, he's not acting as a pastor," Miller said of Calicott on his visits to Holy Angels School. "He's acting as a man who's well-loved in his community, who comes by. I mean, what is he expected to do? He's supposed to sit and play tiddlywinks all day long?"

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin removed Calicott from ministry at Holy Angels for the first time in 1994 after two men alleged that Calicott had engaged in inappropriate sexual contact with them in 1976, when he was a priest at St. Ailbe parish. In a June 2002 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Calicott said he takes "full, complete and total responsibility" for sexual misconduct with the two boys.

After Holy Angels parishioners pleaded for his return, Bernardin reassigned Calicott to the parish in 1995, saying he believed the priest no longer posed a threat to children. Calicott remained as pastor of Holy Angels until last year, when the new national church policies governing the handling of sex abuse cases were written.

"Father John's life is back there," said Rex Alexander, former president of the parish school's advisory board. "That's where he was born and raised and his family is from. To come back and visit, I see nothing wrong with that.

"The one thing missing in the African-American community is a male role model," Alexander said. "And then we get a male role model. And every time we get one, something happens to him, somebody has to criticize it."

Barbara Blaine, founder of the advocacy group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said the fact that Calicott freely visits Holy Angels School shows a breakdown in church policy and its monitoring of abusive priests.

"Nothing proves how little has changed in the church more than this," Blaine said. "This proves that no one can be monitored 24 hours a day. . . . This shows the whole system is broken down, and that policies and paperwork are meaningless."

Calicott's situation is "an anomaly," Dwyer said. "There are still a lot of people who want him to be pastor, but that's not going to happen."