Former Orland Park Priest Reinstated after Sexual Abuse Allegation Refuted
April 15, 2014
The pastor of a Roman Catholic church in Chicago has been reinstated after an investigation refuted an allegation of sexual contact with a child nearly 20 years ago when he was assigned in Orland Park.
The Rev. Michael W. O’Connell will resume his role as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish on Thursday, according to a statement from Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Susan Burritt.
O’Connell agreed to step aside in early December at Cardinal Francis George’s request after a formal allegation was presented to archdiocesan officials that he engaged in sexual contact with a minor while working at Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park in the late 1990s, according to the statement.
O’Connell worked at the Orland Park parish between 1997 and 2012, and has held various posts within the archdiocese since his ordination in 1983, Burritt said.
The Cook County Sheriff’s office conducted an independent investigation of the claim and found the allegation to be unfounded, according to the statement. The claim was also reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.
The allegation was also investigated by the Archdiocese, which “did not find reason to suspect” that the abuse occurred, and recommended O’Connell be returned to active ministry, according to the statement.
Rev. Michael Foley, the current pastor at Our Lady of the Woods who succeeded O’Connell, said “parishioners are very happy with the news” that O’Connell had been cleared of any wrongdoing, noting that members of the church had sent O’Connell “over 400 cards and letters of support” in the months after the allegation was made.