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  Despite Accusation, Priest Kept His Job
Pastor 1st Accused of Sex Abuse in August, Not Charged till Now

By Jeff Coen jcoen@tribune.com and Charles Sheehan csheehan@tribune.com
Chicago Tribune
January 24, 2006

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/southsouthwest
/chi-0601240075jan24,1,4465686.story?coll=chi-newslocalssouthwest-hed

CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS.

A story in Tuesday's Metro section and RedEye edition incorrectly stated that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago informed Cook County prosecutors about allegations of sexual abuse against a West Side priest. The state's attorney's office first told the archdiocese of the allegation.

The Chicago Catholic Archdiocese learned in August of a sexual abuse allegation against a West Side priest and assigned another priest to monitor his contact with children, but it allowed him to remain at his parish until last week, church officials said.

The family making the accusation alerted the archdiocese, which then turned the allegation against Rev. Daniel J. McCormack over to the Cook County state's attorney's office, according to law enforcement sources. Investigators could not find enough evidence to file charges until last week, when a second child came forward with a separate allegation, authorities said.

In the intervening four months, church officials allowed McCormack to continue running the parish.

According to church guidelines, the archdiocese could have removed McCormack from ministry while the case was investigated, but the church officials decided that was not necessary, said Archdiocese Chancellor James Lago.

Instead, they assigned Rev. Tom Walsh, who lived with McCormack at St. Agatha Church, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd., to supervise any contact the pastor had with children.

Walsh is a "peer" of McCormack's and was a pastor at another West Side parish until the church was closed last year, said archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan.

McCormack was suspended and removed from the parish last week after another child came forward, Dolan said. The student was brought to the principal's office for a disciplinary problem and made a comment about McCormack that alarmed the assistant principal, Dolan said.

The boy repeated the statement to the principal, prompting school officials to call police. Prosecutors determined that the second allegation corroborated the first accusation, according to law enforcement sources.

Archdiocesan officials defended the decision to leave McCormack in place for months while waiting for authorities to look into the matter. The use of a monitor to limit his contact with children is one of the options available in church guidelines addressing how to treat priests who are accused.

"Interim action can include temporary withdrawal from ministry, monitoring, restriction or other actions deemed appropriate by the archbishop ... ," according to the guidelines.

The archdiocese did not have enough information to take more severe steps, said Lago.

Authorities "indicated to us that they were doing an investigation. We were trying to get specific information [about the allegations] but we had none when we restricted his duties," he said.

According to court records, a 13-year-old allegedly was molested several times from Sept. 1, 2001, through Jan. 31, 2005. McCormack was the boy's basketball coach and the alleged abuse occurred in the church's rectory "two or three times a month after school," prosecutors said.

An 11-year-old was abused on Dec. 1 and Dec. 24, 2003, when the boy was alone with the priest after mass, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors asked the archdiocese to not carry out its own investigation, Dolan said, so church officials were not actively looking into the charges.

"They don't want us to interfere with the criminal investigation," she said.

But church officials had followed procedures for handling allegations, she said. After the family made the accusation in August, the archdiocese's Office of Professional Responsibility referred the allegation to the Independent Review Board, which was created after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops set new guidelines for dealing with priest sexual abuse in 2002.

The administrator of the office also contacted the family to offer victims' assistance programs. The family declined help through its attorney, Dolan said.

 
 

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