Accused Pastor Hailed As Community Leader

By Janan Hanna
Chicago Tribune
September 3, 1992

In the West Side neighborhood where Rev. Thomas O'Gorman ministers, his name evokes stories of community service: restoring a bus line, feeding the hungry, raising money for a school.

That was the sentiment on Wednesday, two days after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor against the priest became public.

"There's no proof," said Lanna Harris, 34, a parishioner at St. Malachy Parish, 2248 W. Washington Blvd., where O'Gorman has been the pastor since 1986. "I stand by him. You're innocent until proven guilty. He fights for the people in the projects; he fights for the school; he's a fighter for this community."

Harris, interviewed outside of St. Malachy School, which neighbors the church, said she has attended the church for almost two years. Her two daughters, age 9 and 11, attend the school.

"I don't know who (made the allegations of sexual abuse), but it's not any kids in the school or church," she said. "Who is this person? How reliable is the person?"

"I talked to my daughters about it, and they just can't believe it."

The Chicago Roman Catholic Archdiocese placed O'Gorman on leave from his pastoral duties Aug. 10, pending the outcome of an investigation into the allegations by the Cook County state's attorney.

State's Atty. Jack O'Malley has criticized the archdiocese over the handling of this and several other allegations against 21 clergy members over the past year.

Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin reacted angrily Wednesday to O'Malley's assertion that lack of cooperation by the archdiocese has impeded investigations of child sexual abuse accusations against priests.

"That's absurd. That's not true," Bernardin said at a news conference.

In an Aug. 21 letter to Bernardin, O'Malley criticized the findings by the Commission on Clerical Sexual Misconduct with Minors, a panel Bernardin appointed to recommend policy reforms in cases of clerical sexual misconduct allegations. O'Malley was especially critical of the commission's finding that "the church is generally neither legally nor morally obligated to report the matter (of reported sexual abuse of a minor) to criminal justice authorities for prosecution."

O'Malley on Wednesday reiterated his position in the letter, saying the archdiocese has no business conducting its own private investigation into charges of child molestation by priests.

"It's the most sensitive kind of investigation that anyone can do. It should be left to professionals in order to minimize the trauma to child victims and to preserve evidence for prosecution," O'Malley said.

Bernardin said he hoped to discuss the commission recommendations at length with O'Malley.

Little is known about the allegation involving O'Gorman except that the alleged incident occurred at the church rectory this year and involved a high school student, an archdiocese spokesman said.

O'Gorman was ordained in 1977, and he ministered at St. Barnabas and Sts. Peter and Paul Churches, both on the South Side, before joining St. Malachy in 1983 as an associate pastor. He was appointed pastor at St. Malachy in 1986.

Over the years, O'Gorman has led community crusades against the Illinois State Lottery for targeting the poor in its advertising; the proposal to build a new Bears football stadium on the West Side, which he feared would displace too many residents; and the proposed elimination of the No. 131 Washington bus line that runs between Michigan Avenue and Austin Boulevard.

"This man got a block club going here. He's the one that stopped them from taking that bus away on Washington Street," said Clifford Wallace, 82, a longtime parishioner at St. Malachy. "He went right to the CTA.

"They're giving him a raw deal. He's one of the best men around. He fights everything. We love him, and we don't think he'll be convicted. This man is in your corner. He wants to help everyone - kids and grownups."

Juanita Johnson, another parishioner, said she agreed.

"He's been working around children all these years," she said. "I just don't believe it."


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