Abuse Suit Filed against Ex-Wheeling Priest

By Shamus Toomey
Chicago Daily Herald
September 27, 2002

A former Wheeling priest jailed on child pornography charges was sued Thursday by a one-time altar boy, who claims the Catholic priest sexually abused him some 25 times in the 1980s.

The suit, which also names the Archdiocese of Chicago as a defendant, was filed under the pseudonym John E. Doe by a 31-year- old man who grew up in Wheeling and now works as a bartender in Los Angeles.

It claims former St. Joseph the Worker associate pastor Vincent McCaffrey recruited the alleged victim out of the parish school to become an altar boy, and then molested him repeatedly in 1984 and 1985. Some of the incidents occurred in the church's Dundee Road rectory, the suit alleged.

The California man's attorney, Jeffrey R. Anderson, acknowledged the statute of limitations on the alleged abuse has expired and the case could be thrown out, but said the lawsuit was an "invitation" for other victims to come forward.

McCaffrey, now 50, left St. Joseph in 1987, was removed from active ministry amid sexual abuse allegations in 1991 and agreed to resign in 1993. On Sept. 13, he pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing more than 4,500 images of child pornography. He is in federal custody awaiting sentencing.

Prosecutors say they hope to extend his sentence to the maximum of 20 years by bringing in evidence of the numerous sexual abuse complaints lodged against McCaffrey over the years while he worked at several different parishes.

Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who has represented some 700 alleged victims of priests, has been in contact with federal prosecutors and said his client is available to testify at the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled for December and could last up to two weeks.

The alleged victim has struggled with alcoholism and panic attacks, the latter of which he attributes to the sexual abuse and the fear of telling his story, attorneys said.

According to the lawsuit, another priest who no longer works at St. Joseph intimidated the former altar boy into staying silent during a 1991 meeting at the Ann Sather restaurant on Chicago's Belmont Avenue.

"You have a kid, now a young man, that's been suffering in silence, and secretly in shame for years," Anderson said. "He was told by an archdiocese official to keep quiet, so he had. Only this year did he come to the realization that he couldn't do that anymore."

The priest accused of intimidating the victim and archdiocesan officials declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying they had not yet seen it. Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer did say he was "disappointed" that Anderson, who knows the church's reporting procedures, did not contact church officials about the alleged McCaffrey victim sooner than Thursday.

The allegation against McCaffrey is just one of many fielded by church officials about the Chicago man. Dwyer said earlier this month that one claim came from a teenager at St. Joseph about a year after McCaffrey was reassigned.

Anderson said that allegation wasn't his client's. Instead, his client believes there were other victims at St. Joseph, an assertion he based on McCaffrey once showing him lewd photographs of boys the victim recognized, Anderson said.

The suit seeks unspecified damages.


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