DCFS Wants Church Records
Archdiocese Not Ready to Share Files in Old Abuse Cases
By Manya A. Brachear firstname.lastname@example.org
February 19, 2006
Days after the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago promised to report future abuse allegations to child welfare agents, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services says church officials are reluctant to give up information about past cases they have already investigated.
In letters from DCFS director Bryan Samuels to Cardinal Francis George last week, the agency said the church had an obligation to report all allegations--past and present--to protect children.
"We think that looking at all those allegations is in the interest of kids and in the interest of the community at large," Samuels said Saturday. "The more information we have, the better we understand what has happened in the past, the greater the likelihood we can prevent things from happening in the future. We would hope over time that the archdiocese agrees with us."
Colleen Dolan, director of communications for the archdiocese, said that although discussions between the church and the state agency continue, those cases are closed for now. All allegations, she said, have been reported to prosecutors.
"They're the ones drawing a line in the sand as to what the absolutes are," Dolan said. "It is very gray. We've already brought in consultants to help with some of this stuff. Once [the investigators] give their response, once we have a more defined conversation with DCFS, we'll be in a better position to make that decision."
Last week, the archdiocese announced new protocols, including better communication with DCFS, regarding abuse allegations. Chancellor Jimmy Lago said the church would rely on the agency to create a safety plan to determine whether the church should immediately remove a priest from ministry while the church conducts its investigation. Lago also said abuse allegations would be reported to DCFS even if the alleged victim is now an adult, as long as the abuse took place when he or she was a minor.
Samuels said that should apply retroactively. By reporting all cases to the DCFS, Samuels said, the names of the accused are entered into a state registry that prohibits them from working with children.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, applauded DCFS for its inquiry.
"God love them," he said. "It would be so refreshing and reassuring to see Cardinal George just once voluntarily disclosing information about serial predators to a genuinely independent agency."
In addition to unveiling new protocols last week, the archdiocese hired an independent auditor to examine the procedures that left Revs. Daniel McCormack and Joseph Bennett in the pulpit for years after the church received abuse allegations against them. Both were reportedly "monitored" by the church.
A separate firm will examine the church's "monitoring" procedures. McCormack is accused of abusing three boys--one allegedly during the monitoring period.
Samuels said the state agency also is concerned with how the archdiocese monitors priests who are removed from ministry and housed at the Cardinal Stritch Retreat Center, located at the U.S.' largest Catholic seminary in Mundelein. The campus is less than 500 feet from Carmel Catholic High School.
"We don't know who they are, why they're there, what kind of therapy they're receiving, or who they have access to," Samuels said. "We don't know if any of those individuals cross the street and go over there. From a child welfare perspective, what the church is asking everyone to do is trust them. There's enough information out there and enough research findings about pedophiles that certainly suggests there's a high rate of recidivism.
"It doesn't just come and go at the drop of a hat. It is a pattern people tend to perpetuate. Being able to monitor them [through the registry] is a benefit to the community."
Also on Saturday, a watchdog panel appointed by the nation's Catholic bishops to enforce abuse guidelines said it would wait for the results of the audits in Chicago before making nationwide recommendations.
"I think it would be intelligent for the board to take a position on what's happened," said Patricia Ewers, chairwoman of the United States Conference of Catholics Bishops' National Review Board. "Without that kind of information, it's really premature and not helpful for us to be seen as critics."
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