Outsider to Examine Abuse Cases
Church Invites Auditors to Study Why Problems Keep Occurring
By Manya A. Brachear firstname.lastname@example.org
February 16, 2006
For the first time, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has invited an outside consultant to probe its classified procedures for handling abuse claims to determine why Revs. Daniel McCormack and Joseph Bennett stayed in ministry for months or years while investigations of allegations against them stalled.
The archdiocese also announced Wednesday that it will now report all abuse allegations against priests to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, no matter how old the claims may be.
But church officials do not plan to eliminate the practice of allowing accused clergy to continue in ministry under monitoring. That will remain an option, they said, unless DCFS calls for the priest's immediate removal, an allegation is deemed credible or the archdiocese determines it is prudent to temporarily withdraw him.
The archdiocese has hired a separate inspector to examine the practice of monitoring and recommend who should be apprised when a priest is under the microscope.
"We're going to have to do monitoring for the priests whether they're removed temporarily or whether they stay in the parish," Chancellor Jimmy Lago said in an interview Wednesday. "Monitoring is going to be a very critical part of the future one way or the other. What we want to say is, `What does the recommendation of the child welfare agency say about that safety plan?' If they're not involved, then we will design our own safety plan."
Defenbaugh & Associates, which will look into the church's actions regarding McCormack and Bennett, helped conduct compliance audits in about a dozen dioceses for American bishops in 2003. The firm also audited the archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Terry Childers was hired to assess the monitoring procedures. A licensed clinical social worker, he teaches courses in sexual exploitation of children and profiling sexual offenders in the criminal justice department of Loyola University. He has never worked for a diocese, the university said.
Both auditors were commissioned by Lago, who was assigned to directly oversee the handling of all abuse allegations--an effort to centralize a process that seems to have allowed too many details to slip through the cracks.
Chancellor adds role
As part of his new duties, Lago ordered the independent reviews and said the archdiocese will no longer require that victims report directly to the church in order to launch an investigation. Notification from law enforcement, he said, should suffice. He will also make the calls on when or whether to remove a priest.
"I'm the guy that's going to have to make sure that the right things happen. Buck stops here," Lago said. "If we're not acting quickly enough, if we're not having the right kind of communication with the public authorities, if we don't get the information we need, I'm expected to stamp my feet and scream and yell and make sure that we get it. I'm going to take that as a very affirmative mandate to be aggressive about it."
Lago said he also will recommend disciplinary measures in cases where church protocol is violated.
In a letter to archdiocesan personnel, George said the upgrade of Lago's duties "is necessary because of the complexity of responsibilities and the sometimes uncertain information that has to be better shared."
The adequacy of church protocol to protect children came under scrutiny when the archdiocese disclosed that a priest had monitored McCormack since authorities received an abuse allegation against him in August. He was removed from St. Agatha parish in January and has since been indicted for allegedly abusing three boys. Some of that abuse allegedly took place during the monitoring period.
Lago said church officials did not communicate with DCFS about the allegations because they were told that law enforcement had notified the agency. In the future, he said, the archdiocese will contact DCFS about all allegations and await its input about whether to immediately remove the priest from ministry.
DCFS spokeswoman Diane Jackson said the agency heard about McCormack from authorities in August. By December, the agency found reason to suspect he had abused a minor and notified the priest and law enforcement of that finding. Jackson would not comment on what other actions were taken. McCormack remained in ministry until his arrest Jan. 20.
In the case of Bennett, pastor at Holy Ghost parish in South Holland, the archdiocese did not appoint a monitor until a year after receiving allegations against him. The cardinal removed him 10 months after that, expressing concerns that the church's monitoring system may be flawed.
Lago said he hopes investigators can recommend ways to avoid what happened in the cases of McCormack and Bennett. He said he also is counting on auditors to identify who may be responsible for the mishandling of a complaint voiced in 2000 by the former principal of the now-shuttered Holy Family School about McCormack's behavior.
"Those are the kinds of questions we hope the consultant will answer for us," Lago said. "To the extent that we need to improve our practice, what should we have done? I think that will give some comfort to those that question that we acted irresponsibly if we did. If we didn't, I think that story needs to be told. ... You can't go forward as anybody knows without addressing the past. That's got to be an element people have some confidence in."
Anne Burke, an Illinois appellate judge who served as head of the National Review Board of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, agrees with that sentiment, though she wonders why it took more than three years for the archdiocese to reach some of its conclusions. Burke said the panel made similar recommendations to all 195 dioceses three years ago.
"There is an acceptance and verification that more needs to be done," Burke said. "There is an acceptance that independence is primary and that we need independent outside help. The good news out of a very bad situation is that we can go forward. The only way we can go forward is if you recognize the faults of past conduct."
Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she doubts that a consultant chosen and paid by the archdiocese, and with a history of working for the church, can be independent.
Burke stopped short of praising the archdiocese for its reforms before she sees results.
"I need to see a promise that they will follow them," Burke said. "If you don't follow, them it's not worth anything."
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