Priest Who Admits to Misconduct Calls Policy Too Harsh

By Ana Mendieta
Chicago Sun-Times
June 15, 2002

The Rev. John Calicott said Friday he takes "full, complete and total responsibility" for engaging in sexual misconduct with two boys in 1976.

But the pastor of the South Side's Holy Angels Catholic Church--who is among a half dozen or so Chicago area priests to face removal from their ministry in the wake of new national policies on sexually abusive clerics--said he will fight to keep his post.

"I am really stunned right now. I really feel hurt that I would be lumped into the same category as Geoghan," Calicott said, referring to John Geoghan, a former Boston priest who allegedly molested more than 130 children over several decades.

Calicott called the new policies adopted Friday by American bishops "a punishment, a vengeance, and an assault on the very soul of Christianity."

"There are things that I should have never done, you better believe it," he said during a Friday interview in the rectory of Holy Angels, located in the Oakland neighborhood.

"But I feel I have worked very, very hard to get to this point. I have been told by professionals that I actually went beyond what would normally be expected. So I have to say to myself, what is the purpose then of taking my ministry? And the only thing I can come up with is punishment and vengeance."

He said he, too, knows the pain of the abused, since he was molested by a priest when he was younger.

"I know the victims' pain and anguish," Calicott said. "I was victimized sexually as a senior at Quigley Seminary by a priest. Hear my confession, hear my confession. But to say we are going to punish people for what occurred 20, 30, 40 years ago, how Christian is that?"

Calicott was removed from Holy Angels in April 1994 after two adult men accused him of sexual misconduct at Chicago's St. Ailbe's parish in 1976, when they were boys.

The priest received counseling at a Maryland psychiatric facility and was reinstated at Holy Angels after admitting to the sexual misconduct, and after his parishioners pleaded with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin for his return.

Calicott, who insists he didn't intend to hurt the minors, said he will fight his removal and meet with Cardinal Francis George, whom he called "a fair man with a good heart."

If he's stripped of his ministry, as the new policies mandate, he said he will leave the priesthood and retire to his family farm in the South.

It's wrong to have a blanket policy for all priests who have committed sexual misconduct, including those, like himself, who have not offended again, he said.

Holy Angels parishioners interviewed Friday night had mixed opinions on Calicott's situation.

At least one person said he'd consider leaving the parish if Calicott were removed.

"It would be a real test of my faith," said Rex Alexander, 52, who went to elementary school with the priest. "And we would absolutely protest his removal, no question about it."

Tonya Bolden, 35, was shocked to hear about Calicott's likely removal.

"Is that right? It's unfair. . . . He has been rehabilitated and I know he has done an excellent job. I don't believe in going back 25 years and applying zero tolerance. It should be applied for cases from now on," said Bolden, who had two daughters in choir practice at the church Friday evening.

But Vincent Hardy, 40, a parishioner for the last 12 years, said removing priests with proven sexual misconduct cases "is the right thing to do," even if it means pulling Calicott from the pulpit.

"I am just wondering why they took so long to come to this conclusion. ... I lost faith in him after the whole incident. But I can't pass judgment. We all make mistakes. It is now between him and his God," Hardy said.


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