Priest Charged in Sexual Abuse of 2 Boys

By Cathleen Falsani and Leslie Baldacci
Chicago Sun-Times
January 22, 2006

Cook County prosecutors Saturday charged a 37-year-old Roman Catholic priest with sexually abusing two boys at a parish on Chicago's West Side as recently as last year.

The Rev. Daniel McCormack, pastor of St. Agatha parish and a teacher and basketball coach at Our Lady of the Westside School, was arrested Friday night at his brother's home in Orland Hills. He is charged with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse.

McCormack's arrest marks the first time in more than a dozen years that prosecutors have brought criminal abuse charges against a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. McCormack is only the fourth priest from the archdiocese in 22 years to be prosecuted in Illinois for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor.

According to information presented in court by Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Kathleen Muldoon, McCormack allegedly abused one of the boys -- a member of the basketball team the priest coaches -- two to three times a month for nearly 3-1/2 years.

Abuse claims detailed

The alleged abuse began in September 2001, when the boy was 9, and continued until January 2005, when he was 12, Muldoon said. The boy is now 13.

Those incidents took place in the rectory next to the church, Muldoon said. Each time, McCormack "would squat in front of the victim, pull down his pants and underwear and fondle the victim's penis," Muldoon stated in court.

Prosecutors also claim that McCormack similarly fondled an 8-year-old boy on two occasions in December 2003, when he was alone with the boy after mass. That boy is now 11. The priest gave gifts to both boys -- who do not know one another -- and told them not to tell anyone what had happened, Muldoon said.

As the charges against him were read in Bond Court at 26th and California, McCormack stood silently, swaying slightly. He was not in the courtroom but was visible on video screens from a camera set up in another room. The priest, who has been St. Agatha's pastor since 2000, was wearing a collarless white shirt and dark jacket.

If convicted of the charges, he could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

Judge Colleen Hyland set bond at $200,000 and ordered McCormack to have no contact with either of the victims or their families, or anyone under the age of 18.

McCormack's attorney, Patrick Reardon, told the judge that McCormack "comes from a large family" with many children, and asked that he be allowed supervised contact with family members. The judge agreed. The priest posted bond late Saturday night and his next court date is set for Monday.

Criminal prosecutions of clergy sexual abuse are rare. A 2004 report by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice outlining the scope of the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal in the United States found that of 4,392 priests accused of abusing children between 1950 and 2002, only 226 were criminally charged. Of those, 138 were convicted.

Archdiocese reports allegation

Child victims of clergy sexual abuse often don't come forward until they are adults, long after criminal statutes of limitations have expired. In recent years, several states, including Illinois, have passed laws extending both criminal and civil statutes of limitations so such child sex abuse cases can be prosecuted more easily.

The Chicago Archdiocese "recently" received information about "an allegation of sexual misconduct involving Father Daniel McCormack" and "immediately reported [it] to the authorities," said Diane Dunagan, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese. "The archdiocese is cooperating fully with them in this matter."

McCormack has been removed from St. Agatha pending a review of the allegations against him by an archdiocesan independent review board. If it finds "reasonable cause to suspect" that he has engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor, McCormack will be removed permanently from ministry.

Cardinal Francis George was visiting missionaries from his religious order, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, in Thailand this weekend and could not be reached for comment, but the cardinal's spokeswoman, Colleen Dolan, said he "has been informed" about the McCormack situation. George, who was in New Zealand all last week and travels to Rome on Tuesday, is expected to return to Chicago on Thursday, she said.

McCormack's official priest records were not available Saturday to Dolan or Dunagan, but according to a 2002 interview with him posted on the archdiocese's Web site, McCormack is a native of Chicago's South Side -- the fifth of nine children in his family -- and a graduate of Quigley Seminary South, Niles College and Mundelein Seminary. He was ordained in 1994.

Before arriving at St. Agatha, McCormack was assigned to St. Ailbe parish on the South Side from 1994 to 1997, while also doing "formation work" at Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary. While he was a seminarian, McCormack served three other Chicago parishes: St. Martin de Porres, Our Lady of Peace and Old St. James. He also was a sacramental minister at Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road between 1997 and 2000, according to the interview posted online.

'I'm stunned'

When asked by the interviewer about the "difficulty of being a priest" during the sex abuse crisis, McCormack answered in part, "The church is led by the Spirit but run by sinful human beings. Sin will happen and that is reality. But how do we move from sin to redemption, sin to forgiveness?"

At the time their pastor's bond was being set at the courthouse 1-1/2 miles south, a group of St. Agatha parishioners were at the church at 3147 W. Douglas, preparing for a 2 p.m. community dinner. They said they knew nothing of the charges.

"I'm stunned, and I'm speechless," said David Johnson, a maintenance man for the parish who was shoveling snow in front of its convent, when a reporter told him about the charges. "[McCormack] does a good job with the service, with the children, with the church. He takes a lot of pride in it."

"It is shocking to me," said another man, who declined to give his name. "He's a good person. He's always been a fair man to me."

Past Prosecutions

- August 1984: The Rev. Robert Friese, a priest of the Chicago Archdiocese working as a counselor at Maryville Academy, is charged with aggravated criminal sexual abuse and taking liberties with a child for molesting a 14-year-old boy living at the Catholic home for troubled youths. He's convicted in November 1985 and sentenced to four years' probation.

- December 1991: The Rev. Robert Mayer, a Chicago archdiocesan priest, is indicted on four counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for molesting a 14-year-old girl in early 1991 at St. Odilo parish in Berwyn. He was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

- June 1992: The Rev. Norbert Maday, a Chicago archdiocesan priest who was associate pastor of Our Lady of the Ridge parish in Chicago Ridge, is charged in Wisconsin's Winnebago County Circuit Court for molesting two boys (ages 13 and 14) from the Chicago Ridge parish at a religious retreat in Wisconsin in 1986. He was convicted in April 1994 on three counts of sexual assault and one count of intimidating a victim, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

- June 1993: The Rev. Ralph Strand, an archdiocesan priest on administrative leave as pastor of St. Francis Borgia parish in Chicago, is charged with sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at his former parish, St. Mary in Des Plaines, over a two-year period beginning in 1990. In July 1995, he pleads guilty to one count of sexual assault and is sentenced to four years in prison.




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