Sex-Abuse Case a Test for Parish's Faithful|
By Manya A. Brachear
January 30, 2006
The choir sang hymns proclaiming God does not abandon the faithful.
The bishop preached a homily stressing God's power to cast out evil.
The priest sat quietly until his time came to remind parishioners he was there to help them heal.
But not once during mass at St. Agatha Catholic Church in Chicago on Sunday did celebrants utter the name of Rev. Daniel McCormack, the priest removed from the pulpit more than a week ago when Cook County prosecutors charged him with sexually abusing two children.
"You may not be ready today to talk," said Rev. Tom Walsh, acting pastor of St. Agatha, 3151 W. Douglas Blvd. "Maybe there's some anger and some fear and some doubt in you. But you will be someday. Believe me. And we all need to ... That's what the healing process is all about."
As counselors hovered in the back of the sanctuary to meet with parishioners and victims advocates demonstrated outside, Auxiliary Bishop John Manz celebrated mass--a gesture intended to show parishioners that the archdiocese had not turned its back on the 112-year-old North Lawndale parish.
Cardinal Francis George will meet with members on Monday.
"You can tell this has affected him, and it's affected him because, as he said, he cares about you," Walsh told the congregation. "You can take that however you want ... But we are a praying people and do still have some confidence, although maybe it's been shattered a little."
Also shattered is the unity of a congregation now divided between those who defend McCormack and others who feel betrayed by what they call his dishonesty, his alleged indiscretion and, in their view, the Chicago archdiocese's failure to respond in a timely manner.
Chicago police first heard allegations in August that McCormack had sexually abused a child. Police and prosecutors concluded 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.
Church officials said McCormack was not removed from ministry because the family of the first accuser never brought an allegation to the archdiocese. Authorities said obtaining interviews with the victim from the police would have required a subpoena.
Instead, as church officials awaited a complaint to the archdiocese, McCormack was told not to be alone with minors. The archdiocese's vicar for priests also asked Walsh, who lived in St. Agatha's rectory, to keep tabs on him.
George said Saturday that Walsh was not given enough information to do the task.
And parishioners said Sunday that McCormack did not follow the archdiocese's instructions, having seen him on several occasions alone with young boys in the rectory and the sacristy.
On Sunday, the congregation gave Walsh a standing ovation when parishioner Ann Deuel stood and testified on his behalf.
"I did not want to break any confidences of someone I tremendously respect, but I wanted to say to my church family that I have never known a more deeply compassionate caring person," Deuel said. "His focus has been the healing process. I don't know what Father Tom's future wishes are, but I could think of no better place than letting him stay right here."
Manz said Sunday he would recommend that Walsh remain at St. Agatha, where he has lived since June when the archdiocese closed his parish, Presentation BVM, and merged it with three West Side congregations.
Many parishioners agree that McCormack should have told them when the first abuse allegation surfaced in August, even if there was no criminal charge or church investigation.
As a mother of five at the parish school, Aundrea Robinson, 31, said she deserved to know. Her son plays on the boys basketball team that McCormack continued to coach.
"I don't feel [the archdiocese was] here for us in the beginning," she said.
Versie Lewis holds out hope that parishioners made up the allegations to get rid of McCormack. Still, she wishes he had alerted others.
"If you're guilty, come forward and admit it," said Lewis, 62. "We all have sinned and fallen short. Nobody is perfect. If he's guilty, he's sick and needs help."
Kim Henderson, 32, has eight children who attend church and school there. She said she is praying for McCormack and believes he is innocent.
"The `Henderson 11' is behind him 100 percent," she said, using McCormack's nickname for her family. "They already convicted him. A person is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. There are parishioners out there who still believe in him."
Meanwhile, other parishioners never want to see McCormack return.
"I never want him in St. Agatha again," said Julia Bledsoe, of the church's ladies auxiliary. "He can go to another place if he's found innocent. His career is ruined here. ...
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