George: 'I Take Responsibility'
Monitoring of Priests to Change Now, He Says
By Charles Sheehan, Margaret Ramirez and Carlos Sadovi
February 3, 2006
Just hours after Rev. Daniel McCormack appeared in court to face charges of abusing a third boy, a remorseful Cardinal Francis George said Thursday he would immediately reform the monitoring program that should have kept the priest away from children.
Compelled again to speak about a new and widening crisis over the archdiocese's handling of sex abuse allegations against priests, George said he takes the blame for not removing McCormack from ministry when the priest was accused of abuse last August.
George conceded that church officials were ill-prepared to respond to a case where the alleged abuse was occurring now, not decades ago.
"I recognize that I should have found some way to react more aggressively because this was a current allegation, the first one we've had," George said.
He said "it didn't take hold immediately that this was current" and he should have found a way to remove McCormack.
"I take responsibility for not doing that," George said.
Chicago's struggles with monitoring have raised fresh concerns among national church leaders that the practice puts children at risk.
Representatives of some other dioceses said their policy is to immediately remove any priest accused of sexual abuse when an allegation is made. But in some cases, Chicago has attempted to allow priests to stay in their parish, under supervision, while abuse allegations are investigated.
Now, in place of monitoring, archdiocese officials hope to create a "non-judgemental leave policy," spokesman Jim Dwyer said.
As problems with the handling of the McCormack case emerged, George removed from ministry another priest who had also been monitored. Questions remain about why that priest apparently had no supervision for a year after abuse allegations were made.
Patricia O'Donnell Ewers, current chairwoman of the U.S. Catholic Bishops National Review Board, said she is unsure how many other dioceses across the nation use monitoring. But, she said the policy was common practice before the sexual abuse scandal erupted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church in 2002.
"It's sort of a holdover from the past. Monitoring was a practice that was done even prior to the [reforms]," she said.
Appellate Judge Anne M. Burke, former chairwoman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' National Review Board, said the board recommended in 2002 that bishops follow the same practice as other institutions that deal with children.
"The concept is not new. The (Chicago) Board of Education has the policy and I just fail to understand how the archdiocese thinks they could be any different than any other agency that deals with children," Burke said. "It's a simple process, it was recommended almost four years ago, other dioceses have been doing it and I'm flabbergasted that we haven't."
Ewers said the National Review Board will discuss monitoring at its meeting this month in Texas and would make recommendations to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the policy. That recommendation would need approval by the bishops.
But, she said, individual bishops have the authority to revise their own policies.
"So, what we're really looking for is the leadership of the bishops and the cardinals to act immediately, rather than wait for a lengthy process to go through at the conference," Ewers said.
"If the bishop or cardinal understands that this had not been a wise policy, act now.
Earlier Thursday, McCormack had entered a courtroom facing new charges he abused an 11-year-old boy who lived near the rectory of St. Agatha's. The priest had been previously charged with abusing two other boys.
Prosecutors alleged in court Thursday that the abuse of the third victim occurred over a period that ended in December. McCormack had been under church monitoring since last fall after abuse allegations first surfaced, though prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to charge him.
After a second accuser came forward, McCormack was arrested on Jan. 21 and charged with two counts of aggravated sexual abuse. One boy was allegedly abused between September 2001 and January 2005; the other boy alleges abuse happened in 2003.
McCormack, who had been out on $200,000 for the first two charges, was ordered by Judge Douglas Simpson to be held on an additional $300,000 bail.
"These new allegations significantly change the posture of the case in my opinion," said Simpson.
McCormack was released after his brother posted the required $30,000, according to court officials.
Assistant Cook County State's Atty. Kathleen Muldoon said it was friends of children from the parish who had participated in an after-school program at the church, Muldoon said.
The boy, who was not named, began going to the rectory and doing chores for McCormack, Muldoon said.
McCormack allegedly fondled the boy in exchange for money and gifts, Muldoon said.
In seeking a high bond, Muldoon alleged that McCormack denied who he was when approached by an investigator with the Department of Children and Family Services.
The following day when DCFS investigators returned, he admitted lying to them the day before, Muldoon alleged.
"We're concerned that the defendant is not taking the orders not to have contact seriously," said Muldoon.
In court, McCormack's attorney Patrick Reardon said that the media onslaught had caused his client to be wary and cautious about revealing who he was and said he admitted his name to DCFS officials the following day.
Outside the courtroom, Reardon accused the media and members of the group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests of bringing out "professional victims" to St. Agatha and making accusations against his client and the archdiocese. He compared the unproven allegations to the Salem witch trials.
"I think there are professional victims spreading discord and venom in this case," he said. "I am offended by the fact that there are people out there trying to tell the church how to run our church. I have never felt so close to Salem, Mass., in my life."
In an interview, the boy's mother said she questioned her son after she saw a community flier requesting additional victims to come forward. She then asked him if McCormack had ever touched him. The boy said yes. He told his mother that he did not reveal the abuse earlier because he was scared, she said.
Though the family did not attend St. Agatha, the mother said she allowed the boy to help around the rectory for pocket change.
"I was real angry," the mother said. "They (the kids) were trying to earn a little change. I would rather have them do it that way, than be out there trying to sell drugs and stuff."
Yet, George said the circumstances in the McCormack case call for a change, even after all the reforms that were put in place since the sex abuse crisis came to light.
"We thought this was done, at least contained," George said, "and it doesn't seem to be."
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