Former Priest Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison
'Horrifying'abuse testimony helps increase punishment in child pornography case

By Shamus Toomey
Chicago Daily Herald
January 31, 2003

More than two decades of manipulating and molesting young boys while escaping prosecution finally caught up with former Roman Catholic priest Vincent McCaffrey on Thursday.

The one-time associate pastor of St. Joseph the Worker church in Wheeling was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on child pornography charges nearly two months after admitting he molested at least 14 young boys under his care in the 1970s and 1980s.

Although the pornography charges were unrelated to his abuse, prosecutors used the past crimes - none of which were ever prosecuted - to ratchet up a sentence that could have been as few as two years had McCaffrey's victims not come forward.

Several victims gave written statements and five testified during a sentencing hearing Dec. 9. McCaffrey, 50, of Chicago, took the stand during that hearing, admitted his crimes and acknowledged he has a sexual disorder than can be treated but not cured.

U.S. District Judge John Darrah pondered the admissions as well as the painful words of McCaffrey's now-adult victims and announced his decision Thursday in a courtroom that included McCaffrey and at least three victims.

"Their testimony was as stark and as tragic and as horrifying as anything I've heard in this court," the judge said. "He took from these children perhaps one of a child's most precious attributes - innocence."

As the sentence was announced, McCaffrey, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit over a baggy gray sweater, maintained the same dejected expression he has held through several court appearances.

He has been in custody since last June when U.S. Customs agents found thousands of child pornography images on his computer and in his home. He was caught when an overseas Web site he subscribed to was raided. He pleaded guilty in September.

Since the former priest's arrest, Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk uncovered evidence of McCaffrey's past sexual abuse. The evidence hiked the range of McCaffrey's possible sentence to between 30 years and life under federal sentencing guidelines.

But because the maximum federal penalty for possession of child pornography is 15 years, Darrah had to give a sentence less than the guidelines demanded. Darrah scheduled a new hearing Tuesday to determine if a five-year sentence he gave McCaffrey on one count of receiving child pornography can be served consecutively, thereby extending the sentence to 20 years.

Several of McCaffrey's victims had asked Darrah to give a life sentence. But at least one was pleased with the outcome.

"He'll be real old," said Mike, who, like the other victims, testified under only his first name to shield his identity. "Little boys won't be able to come around him for a long time. He hurt a lot of people. It's a long time coming. It's a long time coming."

McCaffrey's attorney, Thomas Royce, said McCaffrey has tried to keep his sexual disorder under control with therapy and medication. Royce blamed the Archdiocese of Chicago for not doing more to help in the past and for continuing to return McCaffrey to parish ministry in the 1980s even after he was treated for a sexual addiction to young boys.

Archdiocesan officials have said they followed the church protocol of the time and tried to get McCaffrey help. And when a new protocol was put in place by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in the early 1990s, McCaffrey was forced to resign, church officials said.

Royce took issue with prosecutors using McCaffrey's prior criminal acts against him years after the fact. Royce said the 10- year statute of limitations had expired on all the molestation accusations, but federal sentencing guidelines unfairly allow prosecutors to use even uncharged crimes at sentencing time.

In court, Royce said McCaffrey is repentant and haunted by his actions. "He said to me this: 'Do you think I really wanted to do this? I would have suffered any other pain than the greatest pain I inflicted on these people.' "

McCaffrey's niece, identified only as Katie, took the stand Thursday to tell Darrah how long she wanted McCaffrey in prison.

"I want to see him go to jail for his natural-born life for three reasons - I have three beautiful little boys," she said. "I want them to grow up with a chance for a happy childhood and not to let a predator shatter their life."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.