Archdiocese Plans Policy Revision

By Alan Krashesky
ABC 7 [Chicago IL]
February 8, 2006

February 8, 2006 - The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago is indicating how it will be changing its procedures in dealing with priests accused of sexual abuse. The church is under pressure regarding priests who were accused, but allowed to remain in public ministry. There is debate over what the Catholic bishops truly agreed to do when they tackled this issue nearly four years ago.

Again Wednesday, advocates for sexual abuse victims are trying to make their case, practically on the doorstep of the cardinal's office.

"We're here today to ask Cardinal George to be leader, follow promises of Dallas, of openness and transparency," said Barbara Dorris, Survivors Network.

All of this goes back to Dallas and what the American bishops agreed to there in their landmark meeting in 2002. They came with the "essential norms" or the process for handling cases where priests are accused of sexual abuse.

But those norms state that "the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence, and all appropriate steps shall be taken to protect his reputation." It's only when "sufficient evidence" of abuse is verified that a bishop -- or the cardinal, in Chicago's case -- is directed to remove the priest.

In the current case of Father Dan McCormack, another priest was assigned to monitor him, but the archdiocese says it was still waiting for the evidence when police charged McCormack with molesting two boys.

"I can assure you we had at least half a dozen instances where we pleaded, asked, we even asked the state's attorney to forward information," said Jim Lago, archdiocese chancellor. "I don't want to get into a he-said-she-said. I'm going on the basis of the fact we made multiple efforts to make the victim come forward to tell us the specifics so we could proceed with the process."

So now the plan is to change the process: agreements will be made with the state's attorney's offices in Cook and Lake counties, as well as the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. If an abuse accusation is made directly to police or to DCFS and an investigation begins, that information will be shared with the Catholic archdiocese. The archdiocese would not interfere with the state or local police investigation, but it would immediately temporarily remove the priest from ministry, pending the outcome.

"It's gonna involve a suspension of judgment about guilt or innocence while an investigation goes forward," said Lago. "So we're trying to make sure that publicly and otherwise DCFS and ourselves tell the public: we're not talking about guilt here, someone has accused someone, don't know the veracity, truth about it, but we think there's enough here that as part of a safety plan we'll temporarily remove a priest from ministry."

"Definitely, they need to go a step farther and this may be a step in the right direction. I'm not optimistic. I wish I were. But I'm not," said Tim Unsworth, National Catholic Reporter.

The victims advocate group is demanding the archdiocese release all the documentation on past or present allegations of abuse.

The archdiocese says it has not yet received that request, and so it can't respond until it does.


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