|Accused Priests Live near School
By Manya A. Brachear
February 10, 2006
Across the road from Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein sits a stately house where the Archdiocese of Chicago monitors priests removed from public ministry because they allegedly had sexually abused children.
If these men were convicted sex offenders, they would not be allowed to live so close to a school; the two properties are less than 500 feet apart. But in most cases, their alleged actions happened so long ago that they could not be prosecuted.
Victims' advocates say that is no excuse for allowing priests facing substantiated sex-abuse allegations to live in this location, the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House at the nation's largest Catholic seminary, the University of St. Mary of the Lake.
"The purpose is to protect kids. That's why Illinois, like every other state, has laws about where sex offenders can reside," said Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "Just because they were successfully shielded by church leaders doesn't mean they pose any less risk to kids than any other sex offender."
Advocates also question whether the archdiocese is adequately monitoring the priests at the retreat house. Church officials recently chose to monitor Rev. Daniel McCormack rather than suspend him after learning of an allegation against him. McCormack continued as pastor of St. Agatha parish until he was charged last month with sexually abusing two minors.
On Thursday, lawyers for a third alleged victim--an 11-year-old boy--filed a lawsuit castigating Cardinal Francis George for failing to protect their client, saying McCormack abused him while the priest was being monitored.
The archdiocese also had monitored Rev. Joseph Bennett, pastor of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in South Holland, for nearly a year while investigating abuse allegations that were more than 35 years old. The archdiocese removed Bennett on Jan. 31.
Thirteen priests residing at the Mundelein house were removed from ministry over sex abuse allegations, including several whose cases have not been finalized. Church officials say the men are monitored more closely than McCormack was.
At the seminary, priests must report their comings and goings by signing in and out on a register, said Colleen Dolan, director of communications for the archdiocese. They must seek special permission to be out past 10 p.m. and are instructed not to interact with children, she said.
Chaperones sometimes accompany the men, she said, and they are required to undergo counseling. The administrator of the retreat center keeps track of their whereabouts in addition to running the center.
Mundelein police also were given descriptions, photographs and precise room numbers of the priests for whom allegations have been substantiated. Unlike the state's registry for convicted sex offenders, information on the men is not available to the public--with one exception. Ralph Strand is a convicted sex offender who was assigned to live at the retreat center before the Illinois law on proximity to schools went into effect.
"The village of Mundelein isn't trying to engage in the public debate of what or how the church in the larger community should be dealing with this issue," said Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose. "We were trying to on a smaller scale ensure that the concerns of having these kinds of offenders in the community are satisfied by having information and knowing when and where they're here and when they leave."
If convicted, McCormack would not be allowed to live on the seminary campus after serving his sentence, Rose said. He also said Norbert Maday, who is serving a 20-year sentence in Wisconsin for criminal sexual abuse of minors, would be barred from the campus.
"The church is going above and beyond what they have to do," said George Strickland, chief of the criminal division for the Lake County state's attorney's office. "If individual priests or ex-priests left, they would be completely out in the public with nobody watching them. That is by far a more dangerous situation."
Efforts to reach officials at Carmel Catholic High School were unsuccessful Thursday. Rose said police had discussed the priests' status with school administrators.
In September the Vatican approved the permanent removal of 11 archdiocesan priests because the cardinal was "morally certain" that sexual misconduct had occurred. The men were assigned to live out a supervised life of prayer and penance, some at the Mundelein seminary.
Many other dioceses are taking the same actions. In the Philadelphia archdiocese, Thomas Dugan oversees a suburban center for ousted priests.
"The people in the program are just as concerned about people's reaction to them," Dugan said. "They're afraid people might get really bitter and volatile. Unless the Catholic Church buys a Caribbean island and puts signs up, these are the resources they're trying to make do with."
Dolan said the archdiocese is examining all of its monitoring procedures but there are no plans to relocate the residence away from the seminary campus or high school. "It's not desirable. But it's not an issue," Dolan said.
Marc Pearlman, an attorney who represents victims of clergy sex abuse and lives three miles from the seminary, said it is an issue. And as the father of a 4-year-old, he wants the information about the priests living there to be public.
"Make them wear the scarlet letter," he said. "Let me know as a parent that I'm in the presence of a molester."
Rita Schurr, who lives near the retreat center, said she wonders why the church would house the men near seminarians. She also worries for the children in the neighborhood whose parents do not watch closely.
"You can't always tell what bad or evil or trouble looks like," she said.
Another neighbor took a different view.
"Everybody deserves a second chance," said Donna Relation. "I don't know them. I'd like to keep an open mind and not cast judgment."
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