Accused Priest Held Key Post
Former Chancellor Handled Sex Abuse Cases for Church

By Julia Lieblich and Todd Lighty
Chicago Tribune
March 28, 2002

A Catholic priest who as chancellor helped handle sex-abuse cases within the Archdiocese of Chicago has himself been accused of "inappropriate sexual misconduct" with a teenager more than 25 years ago, church officials disclosed Wednesday.

[Photo captions: 1) Rev. Robert Kealy, shown in 1997, has resigned as pastor of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity. Tribune file photo. 2) Complete text of letter sent to Rev. Robert Kealy's parishioners.]

Rev. Robert Kealy, 55, has resigned as pastor of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity in Winnetka and is now living in a "restricted, monitored setting," the archdiocese said in a letter to parishioners.

Under Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Kealy was a high-ranking lawyer who served on the committee that monitored priests thought to have committed sexual abuse. As chancellor, he also drafted letters informing priests that they were being placed on administrative leave because of sexual abuse allegations, church officials said.

In the letter to parishioners, Auxiliary Bishop Edwin M. Conway said Kealy has been accused of sexual misconduct while serving as associate pastor at St. Germaine parish in Oak Lawn, a position he held from 1972 to 1977.

The archdiocese referred the case to law enforcement authorities who said Wednesday that they have begun an investigation. However, even if the allegations were substantiated, criminal charges based solely on those accusations are unlikely because the statute of limitations has apparently expired, officials said.

The current chancellor, Jimmy Lago, said the alleged victim initially came forward last June. A review board established to hear such claims was not able to substantiate them at the time. Additional information was revealed last week, however, and the review board met again and found the charges credible enough to act on, Lago said.

'Good and productive priest'

"I think this a very sad moment, a very depressing moment," Lago said. "This has been a very good and productive priest for the past 20 years. He's a canon lawyer as well as a civil lawyer who contributed a lot of time to the legal clinics."

He added: "This really does vindicate our policies. We take the issue seriously even 20 years later when the victim comes forward and the priest is prominent."

Kealy started out as deacon in St. Norbert parish in Northbrook in 1971. After his 1972 ordination, he became an associate pastor at St. Germaine parish. In 1976 he received a law degree from DePaul University College of Law.

From 1977 to 1978, he served as an associate pastor at St. Cletus in La Grange. He then was a resident at St. Boniface in Chicago, which has since closed, until 1982. After studying in Rome for three years, he resided at Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago until 1992 while serving as chancellor and director of the Department of Executive Services at the archdiocese.

Kealy served as pastor of Immaculate Conception in Highland Park from 1992 to 2001. In June he became pastor of Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity.

Under Illinois criminal code, the statute of limitations for sex-related crimes involving children usually is three years after the child's 18th birthday. Under some cases, however, it can be longer.

The Cook County state's attorney's office was looking into the accusations nonetheless, said Mark Cavins, head of the Child Advocacy and Protection Unit.

"You must investigate. What if it didn't happen in 1975 or 1978? What if it happened in 1988? What if we find other victims? We will not rely strictly on what the archdiocese reported. We will build on that," Cavins said.

Generally, statutes of limitations are placed on criminal and civil cases as a means of fairness to a defendant, according to Ronald J. Allen, a Northwestern University law professor. Over time, witnesses' and victims' memories fade and evidence disappears, he added.

Victims' advocates say such laws are unfair when applied to victims of sexual abuse by priests, saying most victims are too traumatized to report crimes until years later.

Rev. Bill Malloy, who has served six years as pastor at St. Germaine, said he was shocked when told Wednesday morning of the alleged abuse in his parish years ago.

'Great sadness'

"There is great sadness" among the parishioners who have heard the news, Malloy said. "People knew him and admired him. Their hearts are broken because they put so much trust in him."

Malloy noted that, ironically, St. Germaine is the patron saint of abused children. "I hope some good will come of this in the long run," he said. "We need to pray for the victims and the priest and for each other.

Parishioners at Immaculate Conception said Wednesday they could not believe the allegations were true of the priest they knew.

Patricia Ginnelly said she had just sent Kealy an Easter card. "I don't believe the charges at all. He really brought the parish together. The parish was devastated to lose him last spring."

Betty O'Sullivan agreed: "He's a wonderful, wonderful man. You can talk to him about everything."

Two parishioners who stopped by Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity on Wednesday night expressed strong support for Kealy.

"He is doing wonderful things for this parish. If it's true, I'm devastated," said Shannon Spencer, 34, of Winnetka, a lifelong member of the congregation. "Our hearts go out to Father Kealy and our prayers."

A third longtime parishioner, who declined to be identified, said she had been impressed with Kealy during his short tenure and was saddened by the allegations.

Nonetheless, she said, Kealy shouldn't remain as her parish priest if the abuse did happen. "If that's what he did, he doesn't belong here," she said.

Previous parish debate

The Winnetka parish has struggled before with the issue of priests accused of sexual misconduct. In 1997, parishioners debated whether a priest who had been removed from parish duty five years earlier should be allowed to be reinstated at the church.

In the end, they voted not to admit him, citing fears for their children's safety. The priest now works for the archdiocese's Office for Racial Justice.

In a church bulletin dated March 24, Kealy addressed the Winnetka parish regarding the recent spate of sex scandals within the Catholic Church.

"Recently, there has been extensive news coverage of clerical scandals in Boston and elsewhere," he wrote. "Catholics have been deeply troubled by these events. There is anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion and a host of other feelings."

Kealy referred parishioners to a number of articles on sexual misconduct in the priesthood and the church's policy toward sexual abuse, before concluding: "As we enter into the Holy Week mysteries of death and resurrection, may we pray that the priesthood and hierarchy will be purified and renewed. With love, Father Bob Kealy."

Tribune staff reporters Donna Freedman, Crystal Yednak, Karen Rivedal and Matthew Walberg contributed to this report.


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