|Priest Admits to Abuse
Defendant Gets 5 Years in Plea Agreement
By Azam Ahmed, Margaret Ramirez and Manya A. Brachear
July 2, 2007
Voicing no contrition for his crime, Rev. Daniel McCormack, the Chicago priest whose sexual-abuse case rocked the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese and led to an overhaul of church policy, pleaded guilty to molesting five boys and was sentenced to 5 years in prison.
With McCormack's admission of guilt, church officials vowed to permanently remove him from the priesthood.
As part of the plea deal worked out with prosecutors, McCormack, 38, pleaded guilty to five felony counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was promptly sentenced by Circuit Judge Thomas Sumner to 5 years in prison. He was taken from the courtroom to begin serving the sentence.
Within an hour of the court proceeding, church officials said they would move quickly to petition Rome for McCormack's removal under church law. But they said they hope McCormack, the former pastor of St. Agatha Church on Chicago's West Side, will request his own termination.
"The sexual abuse of children is a sin and a crime," Cardinal Francis George said in a statement. "When the abuser is a priest, the whole church is affected. Such misconduct by a priest or anyone else associated with the archdiocese cannot be tolerated."
Allegations against McCormack became public in 2006, four years after George, seeking to end a nationwide sex abuse scandal, urged America's bishops to remove any priest from ministry for a single act of sexual abuse.
But the cardinal failed to remove McCormack for months after an allegation of sexual abuse came to his attention.
In addition, outside auditors commissioned by the cardinal uncovered more than 30 missteps by the archdiocese in its handling of the McCormack case. Victims' advocates had called for George's resignation.
On Monday, many church critics lamented the plea deal for keeping a lid on what they contend was the diocese's cover-up of McCormack's crime. For that reason, some are urging lawyers to not accept settlements in civil suits filed against the archdiocese.
"It [would] never have come to this had Cardinal George done his job correctly," said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). "Father McCormack has received a sentence of 5 years, but the boys have a lifelong sentence."
Prosecutors called the plea deal a "no-brainer" because it meant a prison term just two years short of the maximum for McCormack and spared the victims the ordeal of testifying publicly.
"We are very proud of the courage of these five children," said Assistant State's Atty. Shauna Boliker.
Before the plea was read, McCormack's attorney, Patrick Reardon, himself a former priest, asked the judge to turn off the microphone so he could confer about the details of the plea deal.
Sumner refused the request, saying the case had already been publicized in the papers. "Just do it, like everyone else," he said.
Prosecutors gave graphic detail of how McCormack fondled five boys between the ages of 8 and 12 inside St. Agatha's rectory.
McCormack also taught algebra and coached basketball at the nearby Our Lady of the Westside School's two campuses. Some victims were members of the basketball team; others were friends of boys who attended the school, according to prosecutors.
McCormack's parents and several siblings, seated near the back of the courtroom, registered different reactions to the details. Some stared expressionless; others covered their faces and hung their heads.
One victim's mother broke down in tears.
McCormack passed up a chance to apologize in court for the wrongdoing.
"It was a huge opportunity that he missed," said Blaine. "At the bare minimum, he should have apologized for what he did to those boys."
Afterward, a family member of one of the victims, who did not identify himself, said, "It could have been longer."
McCormack could serve as little as 2 1/2 years of the prison term, authorities said.
He was charged in January 2006 with sexually abusing the boys at the parish and school. The misconduct dated to 2001.
Two audits by outside consultants later found a trail of abuse allegations dating to his seminary days in 1988, all of which the archdiocese had failed to investigate properly. They also found that although a priest had been assigned to monitor McCormack at St. Agatha, McCormack still had contact with children.
Since the audit, the archdiocese has centralized its procedures for handling sex abuse allegations. The principal of Our Lady of the Westside School's St. Agatha campus, Barbara Westrick, lost her job after chastising the archdiocese for mishandling the case. The archdiocese said her dismissal was for poor performance.
Rev. Larry Dowling, the new pastor of St. Agatha Church, said the plea agreement helps move the parish toward closure. But it also reopens old wounds.
"How do they process this?" he said of the children who were abused. "On one hand, he was a good priest, a good coach, a teacher. Then to find out he did this. It's difficult to process. And with this verdict, they are probably revisiting all the events that happened to them."
Rev. Donald Nevins, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi in Chicago, also reacted with sadness to McCormack's guilty plea. Nevins taught McCormack when he was a young seminarian at what is now St. Joseph's Seminary, and recalled how many of his superiors had had high hopes for the young priest who wanted to devote his ministry to African-American communities.
"I don't know what it is that provokes someone to do that," Nevins said. "But obviously there is something in people that leads them in that direction in their lives. And it is sad to see that with anybody."
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