Accused Priest Lecturing Kids about Sex

By Cathleen Falsani and Ana Mendieta
Chicago Sun Times
January 22, 2004

Officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago are investigating whether a Chicago priest who was removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct with teenage boys has violated church policy by returning to his former parish to talk to groups of Catholic school students about sex.

On several occasions since his removal from ministry in 2002, the Rev. John Calicott, former pastor of Holy Angels parish in the Bronzeville neighborhood, has returned to the parish at the request of his former parishioners to talk to children at Holy Angels School, said the Rev. Robert Miller, Holy Angels' current pastor.

"He comes by at the invitation of the staff, principal and teachers to come by and say something to the kids," Miller said. "He has friends, he has family, he comes back, they say hello to him, they say 'Father John, come in. I want you to sit and talk to the kids, the kids need to hear this. The pregnancy rates are up, gang activity, come on. Talk to the kids about what's important in life.'"

On some of his visits, the 56-year-old Calicott, who could not be reached for comment, also talked to Holy Angels students about sexually transmitted diseases, drug use, gang violence, and other problems facing their community, Miller said.

"He's not supposed to be doing that," said Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Chicago Archdiocese. "It's my understanding that he's never alone with minors. If he were, that would be a violation. . . . We're going to spend a lot of time [today] trying to figure out what's going on here."

The problem is, according to new church policies passed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002, any priest with even a single credible allegation of sexual misconduct with children against him must be removed permanently from ministry. The policies further say that accused priests may not function as a priest, wear priestly garb, serve in any public ministry or celebrate mass publicly.

Calicott is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct with two teenage boys almost 30 years ago. Since his removal in the summer of 2002, Calicott has been living in a "monitored setting" in a retreat house at Mundelein Seminary, where he must account for his whereabouts at all times, archdiocesan officials said.

Calicott is appealing his removal from ministry to the Vatican.

"As I interpret the guidelines, there is no real clear delineation because it says there is no active public ministry," Miller said. "As I interpret ministry, [Calicott's school visits are] not active public ministry. He does not dress as a priest, he's not acting as a priest, he's not acting as a pastor. He's acting as a man who's well-loved in his community, who comes by. I mean, what is he expected to do? He's supposed to sit and play tiddlywinks all day long?"

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin removed Calicott from ministry at Holy Angels for the first time in 1994 after two men made allegations of sexual misconduct against the priest dating from 1976, when he was assigned to St. Ailbe parish.

In a June 2002 interview with the Sun-Times, Calicott said he takes "full, complete and total responsibility" for engaging in sexual misconduct with two teenage boys in 1976.

After Holy Angels parishioners pleaded for his return, Bernardin reassigned him to the parish in 1995, saying he believed Calicott no longer posed a threat to children. Calicott remained as pastor of Holy Angels until last year, when new national church policies governing the handling of sex abuse cases were written.

As they had when he was removed from ministry in 1994, many Holy Angels parishioners spoke out publicly in defense of their pastor, asking Cardinal Francis George to allow him to stay as pastor.

"They keep inviting him back," Dwyer said. "There are still a lot of people there who want him to be pastor, but that's not going to happen."

Calicott does have permission to attend mass at Holy Angels, Dwyer said.

"That's appropriate," he said.

Rex Alexander, a lifelong friend of Calicott and a consultant at Holy Angels School, said he sees nothing wrong with the former pastor returning to visit his beloved parish and the parishioners who love him.

"The one thing missing in the African-American community is a male role model," Alexander said. "And then we get a male role model. And every time we get one, something happens to him, somebody has to criticize it."

Barbara Blaine, founder of the advocacy group Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said the fact that Calicott freely visits Holy Angels School shows a breakdown in church policy and its monitoring of abusive priests.

"It's a major concern because of the message that this gives to the children as well as to other child molesters out there," Blaine said.

Contributing: Shamus Toomey.


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