Cardinal: Process 'Failed' in Abuse Case

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune
January 29, 2006,1,3297439.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed

Cardinal Francis George said the process for protecting children from abuse fell apart when allegations first surfaced against Rev. Daniel McCormack in 2000, enabling the priest to stay behind the pulpit for too long.

"I think we failed in certain instances to respond adequately," George said at a news conference Saturday. "I think there are reasons why we did. It wasn't ill will. There was certainly no cover-up on our part. ... We didn't find out enough. We didn't find out quickly enough."

George put the blame on people who did not follow protocol in 2000 and on other procedures that prevented the archdiocese from removing McCormack from ministry.

"Each time you hope it's not true. And more often than not it turns out to be true," George said. "In this case the process couldn't work."

George intends to ask America's Catholic bishops to revise the 2002 guidelines on handling sex-abuse allegations, which did not address cases when victims or their families bypass church authorities and report only to law-enforcement agencies.

Such was the case in August, when Chicago police were told that McCormack, the pastor of St. Agatha Church, 3147 W. Douglas Blvd., had sexually abused a child. Police and prosecutors determined after questioning McCormack and the accuser separately that there was not enough evidence to press charges and notified the archdiocese that an allegation of child sexual abuse had been made against the priest.

McCormack was not removed from ministry because the family of the first accuser never brought an allegation to the archdiocese, George said. Instead, as church officials awaited a complaint, McCormack was told not to be alone with minors. The archdiocese's vicar for priests also asked Rev. Tom Walsh, another priest who lived in McCormack's rectory, to keep tabs on him.

Asking only Walsh, the cardinal said, was another mistake. McCormack continued to coach boys basketball at the parish school. But the principal never was alerted to the allegation.

"When we monitor somebody, it's safer to have several monitors and not just one, and to be sure that all bases are covered," George said. "The monitor wasn't instructed as well as he should have been, which is what the circumstances were and what he should watch for. That wasn't fair to give him a task without giving him more explanations. ... Whatever [Walsh] was told, it wasn't adequate."

McCormack was arrested on a second abuse allegation on Jan. 20, and McCormack did not return to the pulpit when he was released on bail. He now resides with a brother, a police officer living in the south suburbs.

"We didn't have the process down for an allegation that didn't come to us--that was therefore only rumor--and we didn't have the means to deal with it," George said.

But there might not be a problem today if Catholic school officials had followed protocol when an initial allegation surfaced six years ago, George said. Last week the archdiocese began looking into claims that the former principal of Holy Family School, 1029 S. May St., alerted church officials that McCormack may have had inappropriate contact with a child in 2000.

On Saturday, George commended the principal for coming forward at the time and expressed regret that the archdiocese failed to respond.

Barbara Blaine, founder and president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, scoffed at the cardinal's mea culpa and accused him of "splitting hairs."

She said this is not the first time the archdiocese has shielded an alleged perpetrator, pointing to George's decision in 2003 to employ a Delaware priest convicted of abusing a teen before he was ordained.

"This is not a mistake. It's a pattern," she said. "It's far easier for any adult to repair their reputation than it is for a child to repair their innocence once it's broken or taken from them. In our society, we have to err on the side of protecting the kids."

But George delivered his own rebuke for victims groups who advise families to take their allegations to law enforcement and not the church.

"Sometimes some of the victims groups say, `Don't go to the archdiocese,'" he said. "Well, here's a case where they didn't and it became very difficult for us to respond to anything. It became very difficult for us to help the victim. We haven't been able to so far."

But Blaine said taking allegations to church officials often was ineffective.

"We don't believe church leaders should be investigating crime any more than police should prepare homilies," she said.

George said he would discuss the lack of guidance in similar situations with Illinois bishops in March and hopes to eventually bring it to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"The way isn't clear in the code," he said.

George said he is disappointed by the revelations that McCormack might have a dark side. "I've been here for eight years and he was a priest whose reputation was sterling," George said. "Again, had we had more conversations with the school community, perhaps we would have found out there were others that didn't share that high opinion. Through the parishes and among the clergy he did everything well.

"To find out, as I have, that there is another side to him is a learning experience, which is very sad but very necessary for the protection of children."

George said he plans to ask authorities if he can meet with McCormack. If granted permission, George said he would "start by talking about the mercy of God and trying to bring someone who has done wrong, if he has done wrong, to a sense of recognition of that wrongdoing."

On Saturday night, parishioners attending mass at Holy Name Cathedral sympathized with the cardinal, who was released from Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood on Friday after suffering dizzy spells.

"He's got this potential bombshell that he's trying to defuse, so it must not be easy for him to know which way to go," said Chris Small, 51. "I would hope that he's really being sincere about trying to deal with the situation. I think he is. I don't think he's trying to hide anything."


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