Chicago Archdiocese Defends Sex-Abuse Policy

By Brandon Loomis
Associated Press
March 29, 2002

Roman Catholic officials in the Archdiocese of Chicago defended the sex abuse policy that left an accused priest in office nearly 10 months as a necessary balance between safety and privacy.

A victims group called it immoral.

"The only clear moral choice is to err on the side of protecting kids," said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Accused Winnetka priest Robert Kealy, 55, resigned Tuesday as a church review panel was recommending his dismissal, making him the first Chicago-area casualty since priest abuse in Boston sparked a national scandal this year.

Kealy first was accused last June of a 25-year-old charge of inappropriate contact with a teen-ager, according to church officials. But a review board could not substantiate the claim and authorities were not notified.

"It confirms what we have believed all along - that no institution even with the best of motives can police itself," Clohessy said Thursday. His group of 3,600 self-proclaimed victims and family members is calling for immediate police notification of all allegations received by the church.

The Archdiocese of Chicago has boasted that its review policy - implemented a decade ago around the time late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was falsely accused - is more responsive than those in other dioceses.

A panel of church appointees and lay experts interviews the victims and determines whether the claims seem credible. If they do, the panel recommends the priest's removal during investigation and the church notifies authorities.

That's what happened this week, but only after undisclosed new information was presented in Kealy's case, said Chancellor Jimmy Lago of the archdiocese.

The Cook County state's attorney's office is investigating but has not charged Kealy, spokeswoman Marcy O'Boyle said.

Lago said the review board is expected to hear each case quickly and determine whether a safety hazard or likely criminal investigation would warrant telling authorities.

"If there's the least bit of suspicion, they're required to report it," Lago said.

Kealy, accused of misconduct while at St. Germaine parish in Oak Lawn, was assigned to Winnetka's Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity parish last June.

"About two weeks later a victim came forward saying there was (previous) abuse," Lago said. "The review board met and couldn't substantiate it."

Lago said he was unaware what new information might have swayed the board, and board members would not release details of their investigation.

Lago said Kealy is staying in restricted housing where his actions are monitored by other church leaders. He said Kealy so far has not made public statements, either to the media or the church.

It would be irresponsible to take every accusation immediately to civil authorities, Lago said. Some victims - possibly concerned about their families or reputations - might not come forward if it would immediately trigger a criminal investigation, he said.

Lago said he does not believe the current wave of publicity influenced the board's decision to recommend dismissal.

"I don't think the review board views themselves as subject to the vagaries of public opinion," he said.

Nine-year review board member Domeena Renshaw, a psychiatrist at Loyola University Medical School, said it's not easy to decide an accuser's credibility.

"You've got to be very careful," she said. "You've got to listen, listen, listen."

Still, she said, pedophiles typically are compulsive and rack up numerous victims, so it's important to intervene quickly. She said the board reviews each case on its own, without strict standards for credibility.

She said the Kealy case is the archdiocese's only active investigation of a living priest - three others involve dead priests - though recent publicity might bring more forward.

Robert Silva, president of the Chicago-based National Federation of Priests Councils, said Chicago's policy has worked well. Letting civil authorities handle the criminal investigations while church officials handle moral issues makes sense, and Chicago's policy generally does that, he said.

But, he added, "In any system there's going to be things that slip through."


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