Victim Advocates on Offensive against Priest Abuse
Three Priests Removed on Abuse Allegations in Past Week
By Rafael Romo
CBS 2 [South Holland IL]
February 4, 2006
With three priests removed from the church in just the past week, these are trying times for Roman Catholics in the Chicago area.
One priest, the Rev. Daniel McCormack, is facing criminal charges accusing him of fondling young boys at his church. Another, the Rev. Joseph Bennett, was put on administrative leave on accusations that he sexually abused two young girls decades ago. A third remains unnamed.
As CBS 2’s Rafael Romo reports, it all raises questions for churchgoers about whether the Archdiocese is capable of acting quickly enough to curtail sexual abuse.
The reaction from parishioners at Holy Ghost Parish, at 700 E. 170th St. in South Holland, was mixed. Bennett was pastor of that church.
Parishioner Frances Augustyniak said: “I'm a Catholic and I'm ashamed about what's going on. I'll tell you the truth. I'm a Catholic and this is terrible.”
But parishioner Louise Sanzenbacher said: “I'd like to wait 'till all the facts come out, the investigation; I want to see what's going on. I don't want to judge.”
The allegations against Bennett accuse him of sexually abusing two 8-year-old girls in the late 1960s.
That abuse was believed to have happened at St. John De LaSalle Church at 102nd Street and King Drive in Chicago.
The allegations first surfaced two years ago, but it wasn't until this past week that Father Bennett was suspended from active ministry.
Parishioner Adam Hunter defended Bennett.
“I believe Father Bennett will be vindicated,” he said. “I don't believe the charges; I think they're trumped up.”
Most parishioners learned about the allegations when a letter from the Archdiocese was read during the 5 p.m. mass on Saturday.
Parishioner Iliana Gonzalez, said, “It was like a funeral -- very sad, very sad from everybody. I could just feel the vibes and I myself was feeling pretty bad about the whole situation.”
But the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests says the allegations against Bennett were another example of failure by the Archdiocese to move fast enough to stop abusive priests.
Survivors Network member Ken Kaczmarz said: “This is a pattern. It's not an isolated case. The cardinal and his staff do not take these allegations seriously. They put all sorts of bureaucracy and paperwork in front of victims when they come forward.”
On Saturday afternoon, members of the Survivors Network were leafleting at Holy Ghost Parish. They said their purpose was not to protest, but to inform people and possibly counsel victims of sexual abuse.
In a telephone interview, Chicago Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said in response to the issue: "Our track record speaks for itself. When the allegations surfaced two years ago, we contacted authorities immediately. The case occurred more than 35 years ago, and it's impossible to check the allegation's truthfulness overnight."
Bennett is a 40-year veteran priest, having served in eight Chicago area parishes since he was ordained in 1966.
The decades-old charges against him involve two alleged victims, both 8-year-old girls and their allegations of sexual intercourse with the priest while at St. John De LaSalle.
CBS 2’s Jay Levine spoke to the first victim, Therese, who is now in her 40's but remembers well what she says happened when she was just eight years old.
She says Bennett, then a young priest just years out of the seminary "convinced her that sexual intercourse was acceptable and a good thing."
She says she was scared, and crying, in pain, but "back then anything a priest said was a good thing."
Therese said she was motivated to come forward "after intensive therapy. All I kept thinking about was that little girls were in danger.”
She wanted to get Bennett away from children.
She reported the incident in 2003 and was told it would take a few weeks to investigate, despite describing what happened and producing details and descriptions of the priest that only someone with intimate knowledge could know. However, no one followed up on her allegations.
Francis Cardinal George first disclosed that there was another priest being investigated at Monday night’s session with McCormack’s parish. He was removed last month and is facing multiple criminal charges stemming from allegations brought by three boys at St. Agatha Church, at 3147 W. Douglas Blvd.
Bennett was allowed to remain in ministry because “allegations date back 35 years,” according to an archdiocese spokesperson and was “a difficult case with conflicting information.”
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