DCFS Vows New Policy for Priest Abuse Cases
By Ofelia Casillas firstname.lastname@example.org and Manya A. Brachear email@example.com
February 23, 2006
The state's child welfare agency said Wednesday that it is investigating new abuse allegations against Rev. Daniel McCormack, who has been charged with sexually abusing three boys.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has received complaints from five additional minors or their parents over the last three to four weeks, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Meanwhile, DCFS Director Bryan Samuels vowed that future allegations of abuse against priests will be handled differently than the agency's initial investigation of McCormack.
Problems arose with that investigation because the agency had no specific policy for dealing with priests, Samuels said.
For example, a caseworker believed that when she notified McCormack's attorney of the investigation, that also meant the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago would know of it, Samuels said.
"It was clear to the caseworker ... that the lawyer was reporting that he, in fact, was communicating directly with the archdiocese," Samuels said. "That is what the lawyer was stating directly to the caseworker."
The lawyer, Patrick Reardon, confirmed Wednesday that he did speak with DCFS but never represented himself as an agent of the archdiocese.
"I have only one client at a time," Reardon said. "A lawyer would be in malpractice if he tried to do that."
Samuels' comments came a day after the Tribune reported that DCFS, in investigating McCormack, had not followed its procedures for investigating workers who have direct contact with children. The policy requires the agency to report allegations to employers at the start and conclusion of the investigation.
Archdiocese officials have said that DCFS did not notify them an investigation was launched nor that it ultimately found credible evidence that McCormack had abused a child.
Samuels said DCFS launched its investigation after Chicago police contacted them on Aug. 25 about allegations against McCormack.
The report from police lacked context in that DCFS was not told that McCormack taught school and coached basketball, Samuels said. "The allegation was about a priest alone in a church with a child," he said.
"There was no disclosure at all about a school, about a basketball team or kids in the community. None of that stuff was alleged or on the table," Samuels added.
As of Sept. 1, DCFS was communicating with McCormack only through his attorney, Samuels said. On Sept. 13, police and prosecutors decided not to press charges, he said.
But the DCFS investigation continued, during which a state caseworker spoke only with Reardon, Samuels said, including on Oct. 4 when the archdiocese apparently transferred McCormack to a Maryland facility for an "assessment."
"The lawyer indicated on several occasions that (A) he was speaking to the archdiocese; (B) the archdiocese was informed of the progress of the case; and (C) he informed us when Father McCormack was moved from the state of Illinois to be assessed in Maryland," Samuels said.
"And the lawyer also indicated that when he did return, the result of that return would include a decision by the archdiocese as to whether they believed he should return to his responsibility in all of the other areas he was working in."
Despite what police and prosecutors have said, Samuels maintains that DCFS informed both offices that the agency on Nov. 23 had found credible evidence of abuse. The agency listed McCormack in the State Central Registry on Dec. 15, he said.
Archdiocese and DCFS officials said they have taken their experience with the McCormack investigation and turned it into future protocol for the investigation of abuse allegations against priests.
As part of the joint agreement announced Wednesday, the church now will report all allegations to state child welfare officials, including cases involving adults who say they were abused as minors. The church also will suspend its review of an accused priest until DCFS has completed its own.
Meanwhile, DCFS agreed to notify the church within two days of completing an investigation as well as to provide updates about ongoing investigations.
"We've found mutual ground where we can work on getting all of these issues addressed in a positive fashion," said Colleen Dolan, director of communications for the archdiocese.
Later Wednesday, however, Dolan said DCFS had yet to tell the archdiocese of the new allegations against McCormack.
A Chicago police spokeswoman said police are unaware of the new McCormack allegations and have not identified any new victims.
Dolan also said conversations are continuing over an important point in the agreement--whether DCFS would be able to investigate all past abuse allegations against clergy, a request Samuels made of Cardinal Francis George last week.
"It is certainly our belief that we ... will have access to all allegations, and it will be a matter of figuring out which of those allegations deserve our attention," Samuels said.
In future church-related investigations, he added, DCFS has suggested the department apply its existing procedures for teachers and other employees in direct contact with children. "No one ... had ever suggested that," he said.
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