Nun Warned Archdiocese about Priest in 2000

By Cathleen Falsani and Frank Main
Chicago Sun-Times
January 26, 2006

A nun who worked at Chicago's Holy Family Catholic School -- where the Rev. Daniel McCormack used to say mass for students once a week -- has told the Chicago Sun-Times she alerted officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago of her concerns about the priest's behavior with children as early as winter 2000.

The nun, who asked that her name not be used, said a fourth-grade boy at Holy Family claimed McCormack asked him to pull down his pants in the sacristy of the church when the two were alone after a Friday mass in 2000. She said she told several archdiocesan officials about the child's allegations -- both verbally and in writing -- on several occasions, but her warnings went unheeded.

The nun's revelations emerged Wednesday as Chicago authorities widened their investigation of the 37-year-old priest, who was charged last weekend with sexually abusing two boys at St. Agatha's church in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood.

Chicago Police are investigating an allegation that McCormack abused a student in 2000 at the now-shuttered Holy Family School at May and Roosevelt, and investigators also were interviewing a teenager Wednesday about allegations he was abused by McCormack last year, said police spokeswoman Monique Bond.

'Delayed outcry'

Police described the allegation by the teenager as a "delayed outcry" following publicity about the criminal charges brought against the priest.

As for the Holy Family allegation, police learned of it last week while investigating claims that the priest had sexually abused one of the two boys at St. Agatha's church in December 2003, Bond said.

"Detectives continue to investigate any information coming forward," she said.

McCormack was a "sacramental minister" at Holy Family parish, next door to the school, from 1997 to 2000, according to an interview the priest gave to the archdiocese's Black Catholic Chicago Web site in 2002. In that role, he would celebrate mass, but he did not live at the parish and was not its pastor.

McCormack, who is white, became pastor of the predominantly African-American St. Agatha in 2000, according to the online interview.

The nun said Bishop John Manz, the auxiliary bishop whose purview includes both Holy Family and St. Agatha parishes, approached her in 2000 and asked if she would be interested in having McCormack say mass once a week for the schoolchildren.

"Bishop Manz approached me. This was an entirely black school. And he approached me because Father Dan McCormack was -- they called him a sacramental minister at Holy Family because they didn't have a priest. But he said mass there on Sunday.

"[Manz] said, 'Ya know, this wonderful priest misses the black community and misses celebrating mass with children; would you be interested in having him say mass?' And of course I was thrilled to have someone say mass for the children," the nun recalled.

"So he started saying mass on Fridays for the kids. ... He's a wonderful homilist," the nun said. All was well until the mother of a fourth-grade student came to see her one Monday. McCormack had celebrated mass the Friday before and allegedly had an encounter with a boy sent back to the chapel next to the school to retrieve a copy of a book of Scripture, the nun said.

'Let it go'

"She said her son said he went back to get the book, and Father Dan was there. So he said to Father Dan, 'I'd like to be an altar boy. Could I learn how?' And [McCormack] said, 'Oh sure,' he said, 'but I need to measure you. Take down your pants,' " the nun said. "I thought, this has got to be a mistake. So I gave [the mother] his phone number, I had his phone number, and said, 'I'm sure there's an explanation.' "

The nun said she and the boy's mother left many messages for McCormack throughout the week that followed, but by Thursday night, they had heard nothing in return. The nun said she left one last message for the priest, telling him the mother would be waiting for him at church the next day to confront him about her son's charge.

Early the next morning, before Friday mass, McCormack was waiting and met with the mother of the boy alone, the nun said. "She came out and said, 'Sister, everything's fine. It was a big misunderstanding. Everything's fine. Don't pursue it,'" the nun recalled. "Then Father Dan came out. I said, 'What happened?' He's looking down at the floor, and he's very light skinned, and his face is all red, and he said, 'I used very poor judgment.'

"And I said, 'Did you ask this boy to take down his pants?' And he still said, 'I used very poor judgment.' I said, 'Can you give me a yes or no?' And he said, 'I used very poor judgment, and I have to go,' " she said.

The nun said she then called an official from Chicago Catholic Schools to report all that had gone on and was told by the administrator, "If the parents aren't pushing it, let it go." She didn't. She called a few more times, the nun said, and eventually wrote down her concerns and allegations in a letter that she hand-delivered to the school administrator in late winter or early spring 2000.

"I wanted it on file. I wanted something in writing because I knew in my heart. ..," the nun said, her voice trailing off.

'It's outrageous'

Last Thursday, the day before McCormack was arrested at his brother's house in Orland Hills, the nun says she received a phone call from a different Catholic schools administrator.

"He said, 'Do you remember,' and I said, 'DO I REMEMBER? You don't forget something like that!' " the nun said. She told the story about the boy in 2000 again and asked about the letter she had delivered to school officials. The school official she spoke to last week said the nun's letter was nowhere to be found.

"It's outrageous," the nun said.

Last Friday, she got a call from Chicago Police who said they were investigating the 2000 incident at Holy Family.

Colleen Dolan, spokeswoman for Cardinal Francis George, who returned from Rome late Wednesday, said the archdiocese recently had heard "something" about an incident at Holy Family School in 2000, but that there was no written record of it.

"We are aggressively pursuing it and looking into it ourselves. We're interviewing people ... trying to find out what happened. It's very sketchy," Dolan said. "It's sort of in the rumor stage right now. There's nothing to substantiate."

Dolan said she had not heard anything about the teenager police were interviewing about an alleged incident involving McCormack last year.

The nun said she doesn't know whatever became of that fourth-grade boy at Holy Family. He came from a large family -- six children or more -- and his family struggled to make it financially. When Holy Family School was shuttered in 2001 and folded into a consolidated school, Children of Peace school that serves several area neighborhoods, the boy and his family did not return, she said.

Allegations surfaced last August

Last August, Chicago Police sought felony charges against McCormack for allegedly molesting an 8-year-old Willowbrook boy at St. Agatha's church twice in December 2003. But prosecutors did not think they had a strong enough case at the time, a police source and a spokesman for the state's attorney said.

When a second boy from Chicago came forward last week, claiming the priest had molested him two or three times a month from September 2001 to January 2005, beginning when he was 9, prosecutors sought charges against the priest for the alleged abuse of both boys.

Archdiocesan officials have said they first learned of abuse allegations against McCormack last August, when the mother of the Willowbrook boy went to police. Church officials did not punish McCormack because they could not determine whether the abuse allegations were "credible." They enlisted another priest to live at the St. Agatha rectory with McCormack to make sure McCormack was never alone with a child.

Last September, less than two weeks after prosecutors declined to bring charges against the popular young priest, George appointed McCormack dean of the Deanery III-D, a collection of parishes in and around North Lawndale.

Archdiocesan officials have now removed McCormack, who is free on $200,000 bond, from St. Agatha's, and he is living in a monitored setting with his brother, a police officer, in the south suburbs.


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