Accused Priest's Past Is Probed

By David Heinzmann and Charles Sheehan
Chicago Tribune
January 26, 2006,1,3698662.story?coll=chi-newslocalnorth-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

Chicago Catholic Archdiocese officials said Wednesday they are investigating a West Side priest's past, looking for other allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

Rev. Daniel J. McCormack was charged last week with abusing two boys at St. Agatha's Church, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd. Church officials say they will investigate his conduct at other churches and schools, including a South Side parish.

Investigators also will look into his time as director of formation at St. Joseph's Seminary at Loyola University, where he lived in the dormitory with seminarians. His duties included advising them on their path toward the priesthood, said Archdiocese Chancellor James Lago.

Since the charges emerged Saturday, the family of another boy contacted the Tribune and described a 2001 incident in which they say McCormack took the boy aside during basketball practice and pulled down the boy's shorts. That family has contacted the Cook County state's attorney's office, authorities said.

No charges have been filed in that alleged incident.

Because the original allegation was taken to law enforcement first and church officials did not know the details of the child's claim, a full church investigation into McCormack's conduct is just now getting starting, Lago said.

The child's family declined to provide information to the church, and canon law due process kept church officials from pressuring McCormack to confirm or deny anything, said John O'Malley, the archdiocese's top staff attorney.

"You need a reason and cause in church law just like you do in civil law," he said.

The church has been criticized this week for its decision to let McCormack remain in place as St. Agatha's pastor after the first allegation was made at the end of August.

Instead the archdiocese's vicar for priests assigned a peer priest already living at St. Agatha's to monitor McCormack's contact with children.

The first allegation surfaced when the boy's family told him they were moving back to Chicago from Florida, Lago said. The boy objected to returning to St. Agatha, alleging McCormack had abused him in 2003.

Chicago police began investigating on Aug. 25 and picked up McCormack for questioning on Aug. 30, police spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

When police picked him up, McCormack called the vicar for priests, who advised him to contact a lawyer, O'Malley said.

McCormack's lawyer told him not to talk to police, and he declined to answer questions, Bond said. Nonetheless, police sought felony charges that night based on the victim's statement, she said. But prosecutors said there was not enough evidence.

Church officials reiterated Wednesday that the course of the investigation left them in a difficult position, needing to take the allegation seriously but lacking enough information to decide whether McCormack should be removed immediately from ministry.

Prosecutors had refused to give church officials a transcript of their interview with the boy, O'Malley said. But negotiations with the family's lawyer to get the statement were ongoing at the time of the second allegation and the charges last week, O'Malley said.

The family's lawyer, William Turner, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Not knowing any of the details would put the archdiocese in a difficult position, said Teresa Kettelkamp, head of the office for child and youth protection for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"I'd think they'd probably err on the side of removing him than not removing him," Kettelkamp said.

But credibility must be established before a priest is removed, Kettelkamp said. Dioceses must weigh many factors including a priest's reputation, previous allegations and other red flags, she said.

Sources said that since McCormack's arrest investigators have received several calls from people who said they had information relevant to the ongoing investigation.

They have also confirmed they have been contacted by Janet Metoxen, who told the Tribune about the 2001 incident with McCormack that prompted her son to quit the basketball team.

Her son was not a student at St. Agatha, but participated in after-school programs, according to the principal of the school he did attend. The boy, who was 13 at the time, described the incident to a reporter.

"When I tried out for the basketball team, I put on my new uniform," the boy told the Tribune. "After that he brought me in a room where it was just me and him and he said he wanted to make sure the uniform fit right. He pulled on the front of my shorts and he looked down my pants. He didn't touch me or anything, but I left there."

There has been no indication from authorities that a crime was committed in this alleged incident.

McCormack could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The 37-year-old priest took over St. Agatha's parish in 2000 after three years at St. Joseph's, the archdiocese's seminary that is housed at Loyola's lakeshore campus, according to a biography that McCormack had posted on a Web site. He held several positions at the seminary from 1997 to 2000.

McCormack was ordained in 1994 and served three years as a parish priest at St. Ailbe's on the Southeast Side before going to Loyola. He also had worked part-time at three other South Side parishes. Church officials read a letter at St. Agatha's masses Sunday urging other victims to come forward, Lago said. On Wednesday night, church officials met with parish parents, including families of kids who take part in the parish's after-school program.

Keisha Pierce, whose son attends the after-school program, said she's reserving judgment.

"We can't judge because we don't know," said Pierce, "All we can do is wait for results. I just feel we need to pray."


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