Parish Stung by Pastor's Sex Arrest

By James Kimberly
Chicago Tribune
January 23, 2006

A swarm of reporters and a sign that read "Pray, Pray, Pray" greeted parishioners Sunday at St. Agatha Catholic Church on Chicago's West Side.

The reporters were there to ask about the arrest of the church's senior pastor, Rev. Daniel J. McCormack, 37, on charges that he sexually abused two young boys.

The sign was a message from Rev. Tom Walsh, a priest in residence at St. Agatha, to remind the church in the Lawndale neighborhood to remember what to do in times like this.

The congregation was stunned by McCormack's arrest, which occurred Friday evening at his brother's home in Orland Hills, according to Orland Hills police. Most of the parishioners learned from media reports that "Father Dan" has been charged with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of children under 13. He is accused of abusing a 13-year-old boy from Chicago and an 11-year-old boy from Willowbrook between September 2001 and January 2005.

The parish of about 550 families is in mourning over the arrest, experiencing the same emotions as a grieving person, Walsh said Sunday.

"It's like feeling that someone you loved and cared about died," Walsh said.

He said the congregation feels for the boys who reported the alleged abuse but at the same time fears losing McCormack, whom they have dubbed "the anointed pastor" for his ability to deliver powerful homilies without scripts or notes.

"It's a shock. He spoke the word of God," said parishioner Deborah Medious. "He's just a good man. ... He was involved. He always tried to see his members and non-members have the things they need."

St. Agatha plays an important role in the Lawndale community. It operates a pantry to help feed the poor and the hungry, a soup kitchen for the homeless and an after-school program called St. Agatha Family Empowerment. The SAFE curriculum is designed to help children steer clear of street gangs, parishioners said.

McCormack, senior pastor at St. Agatha since 2000, has worked hard to make the church a success, maintaining a robust membership while other parishes have seen their numbers dwindle, parishioners said.

When the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago closed two neighboring churches and consolidated the parishes with St. Agatha, McCormack went out of his way to make the new members feel welcomed.

In addition to his duties at the church, McCormack also coaches basketball and teaches at Our Lady of the Westside School, which is run by the church. The 13-year-old boy McCormack is accused of abusing "two or three times a month" for more than three years played on the basketball team.

The 11-year-old boy was abused on two occasions in 2003, prosecutors said. Prosecutors also said the boys did not know each other and that McCormack gave them gifts and told them not to tell anyone.

On Sunday, Walsh read a letter to the congregation from Auxiliary Bishop John Manz, who said McCormack has been placed on administrative leave and will have no contact with minors. McCormack was released on $200,000 bond over the weekend, and archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said the priest will be staying in a private residence away from the church.

Manz's letter said an independent board established by the archdiocese will review the allegations, and the bishop encouraged parishioners with additional information or allegations to contact either the Cook County state's attorney's office or the archdiocese's Office of Professional Responsibility.

The 10:30 a.m. mass at St. Agatha addressed McCormack's arrest. A crowd of more than 300 people heard readings about biblical figures who overcame challenges.

St. Agatha will also overcome, Walsh told the congregation.

"We are going to do whatever it takes to keep God's word here," Walsh said.

"We shall rise above these problems and the stress that we face," he said.


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