Cop: 'Why Didn't You Yank Him Out?'

By Cathleen Falsani and Stefano Esposito
Chicago Sun-Times
January 25, 2006

Chicago Police wanted to charge the Rev. Daniel McCormack with child sex abuse last August, but prosecutors refused because they thought the case was weak.

"On Aug. 30 we sought felony charges against him, but they were rejected due to the late outcry of the victim, no evidence, no admission of the priest -- he exercised his right to remain silent -- and no corroborating evidence," a police source told the Chicago Sun-Times Wednesday.

The investigation against McCormack, 37, the pastor of Chicago's St. Agatha, was further hampered by the fact that officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago advised the priest to remain silent, the police source said. "That is his right, but at the same time this is the archdiocese with its 'we're upfront about everything' bulls - - -."

The allegations were made by a Willowbrook boy who is now 11. His mother claims the priest molested him twice in December 2003, including once on Christmas Eve. She said McCormack had chosen her son to help him with mass, and that the molestation occurred inside St. Agatha's church.

Mom says boy was shaking

The boy brought his allegations to the attention of prosecutors last August, according to police and officials of the archdiocese.

Shaking and crying, the boy, who was 8 at the time of the alleged abuse, told his mother as the family prepared to return to the Chicago area after an 18-month military assignment out of state, the mother recalled. She suspects her son was afraid he might be within reach of the priest when the family returned to Chicago.

The boy's mother said she managed to reach McCormack by phone and confronted him shortly after her son told her of the alleged abuse.

"I told him, 'You molested my son. My son said you molested him,' " she recalled. "He said, 'I recall the last name, but I don't recall the incident.

"I said, 'I'll see you when I get back to Chicago, and may your soul burn in hell.' "

The Willowbrook boy says McCormack fondled him twice when he was alone with the priest after mass. The first time, McCormack knelt down in front of the boy, pulled down his pants and underwear and fondled the boy, prosecutor Kathleen Muldoon stated during McCormack's bond hearing. The second time he unzipped the boy's pants, reached in and fondled the boy over his underwear, Muldoon said.

Second boy comes forward

Charges were filed against McCormack only last weekend when a boy from Chicago -- who was a player on a basketball team that the priest coached -- came forward with nearly identical allegations. The two boys do not know each other, prosecutors have said.

Sometime last week the Chicago boy, now 13, told the assistant principal at Our Lady of the Westside that the priest fondled him two or three times a month from September 2001 to January 2005, according to the archdiocese. The assistant principal told the principal, who called the police and the state Department of Children and Family Services, said Colleen Dolan, spokeswoman for Cardinal Francis George, the head of the archdiocese who is out of the country this week.

McCormack was charged last weekend with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for allegedly molesting the Willowbrook boy as well the Chicago boy.

John Gorman, chief spokesman for Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine, said there was insufficient evidence when police first brought the case against McCormack to prosecutors in August 2005.

"We told them that, and this is not the first time we've told them there is insufficient evidence in a case," Gorman said. "With the exception of homicides, the police have the option to override the state's attorney's office and file their own charges. The state's attorney's office would then have to prosecute the case."

When the Willowbrook boy brought his allegations against the priest to the Cook County state's attorney's office, prosecutors in turn informed the Chicago archdiocese, Dolan said.

When prosecutors declined to press charges against McCormack last summer, the priest was allowed to stay at St. Agatha with a priest who lived at the rectory "monitoring" his behavior, Dolan said. McCormack was instructed not to be alone with children, and another adult was present in the classroom when the priest taught classes at Our Lady of the Westside, she said.

"Why didn't you yank him out of the parish?" the police source said. "Instead you put somebody in there to watch him."

The archdiocese has since removed McCormack from St. Agatha. He is staying with one of his brothers -- who is a police officer -- at a private home in the suburbs, an arrangement Dolan says was dictated by the criminal court judge, not by church officials.

But an attorney for the Willowbrook boy said he met with representatives of the Chicago archdiocese last fall -- in October, he believes -- and was told McCormack would be removed from St. Agatha's parish back then.

Archdiocesan officials said McCormack "was going to go through some evaluations and other procedures within the church," attorney Bill Turner said. "While they were doing that, it was my understanding that he would be removed from his position at the church. . . . That's what we were led to believe."

'Scant information'

Jimmy Lago, chancellor of the Chicago archdiocese, said he was unaware of any such conversation. "I can't verify that one way or the other. I would be surprised that we would have come to that conclusion about removing him based on the scant information that we had at the time," Lago said.

The archdiocese's prescribed method of investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy was hindered by the criminal investigation by police and the state's attorney's office, Lago said. Normally, when an allegation of abuse is brought to the attention of the archdiocese, the claims are vetted by an independent review board that determines whether the accusations are "credible" and then makes a recommendation to the cardinal about what action should be taken, if any, against the priest.

According to church law created in 2002 for the United States in the wake of the worst sex abuse crisis to rock the American church, if a clergyman has even one credible allegation of abuse against him, he is to be removed from the ministry permanently.

Lago said the review board was not able to reach such a decision because they did not have access to the boy or his mother to hear their side of the story.

Decision is 'mind-blowing'

Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, who was head of the National Review Board -- a 12-member board of prominent lay Catholics charged with watchdogging the implementation of the American church's zero-tolerance policy toward clergy sex abuse of children -- said it is "mind-blowing" that McCormack was not removed from St. Agatha last August, when the first boy brought his abuse claims to authorities.

"We understand that it is a violation of the priest's due process -- you're innocent until proven guilty -- but we're talking about the most vulnerable people in our society and those are children," Burke said. "They have no way to protect themselves, so the best thing to do in this situation, as the schools and other agencies do, is that you immediately remove the person who the allegation is against.

"The state's attorney's office for criminal prosecution has a different threshold of guilt," Burke continued. "We're not talking about an indictment here. We're talking about whether it is more true than not. Is the allegation credible? Is there a possibility that this allegation is true?

"Always try to err on the side of the children," she said. "An adult can pick up the pieces later."


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