Archdiocese Names Priest Abuse Monitor

By Manya A. Brachear
Chicago Tribune
February 15, 2006,1,654530.story?coll=chi-news-hed

Cardinal Francis George has tapped the chancellor of the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago to oversee future allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

In his new role, Jimmy M. Lago has ordered an independent review of the policies and procedures that left Rev. Daniel McCormack and Rev. Joseph Bennett in ministry for months while abuse allegations against them were under church investigation.

Lago has also commissioned an outside firm to review the archdiocese's monitoring practices for priests permanently removed from ministry and for those awaiting a determination on the credibility of allegations made against them.

"The recent chronicle of this Archdiocese and others has shown that, for a small number of children, innocence has been destroyed, trust betrayed and future lives tragically left to cycles of destructive and addictive behaviors," Lago said today in a letter to clergy and staff of the archdiocese.

"The long-term negative effects of sexual abuse of minors, especially by clergy, cannot be underestimated," he wrote.

Within hours of the archdiocese's announcement, critics attacked Lago's appointment, saying policies he has proposed "are nothing new."

"They tweak their policies, they wait for the furor to subside, and they go back to business as usual," Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told the Associated Press. "We just question what this really means."

The comprehensive review of the archdiocese's policies and procedures was announced days after McCormack was indicted on charges he sexually abused three minors while serving as pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

McCormack also was the boys basketball coach at the St. Agatha campus of Our Lady of the West Side School. Two civil lawsuits against the archdiocese have been filed in connection with the case.

In his own letter to the archdiocesan personnel, George said Lago's new position "is necessary because of the complexity of responsibilities and the sometimes uncertain information that has to be better shared."

Lago, chancellor of the archdiocese since 2000, now also will oversee "assistance ministry, legal counsel, vicars for priests, the professional responsibility administrator, human resources and anyone else who might be involved in or relevant to an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor," George said.

"He will also recommend disciplinary actions, if called for, in cases where a policy or practice is violated," the cardinal said.

The church's adherence to its own policies was called into question when the former principal of the now-shuttered Holy Family School claimed that she had reported concerns about McCormack's alleged sexual misconduct in 2000.

The adequacy of its measures to protect children also came under fire when the archdiocese disclosed McCormack had been monitored by a peer since authorities questioned him regarding a sexual abuse allegation in August 2005. McCormack was arrested Jan. 20 after a second child came forward with a similar claim.

Lago is an experienced child advocate who has been associated with the archdiocese since 1976, George said. He serves on the Ethics Commission of the Inspector General's office of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

An Oak Park resident who is married and has two children, Lago played a part in the passage of the state's Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act and was the author of the 10-year report on clerical sexual abuse in the archdiocese in 2003.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.