Archdiocese Won't Turn over Some Files to DCFS

By Eric Herman and Lisa Donovan
Chicago Sun-Times
February 19, 2006

Despite a recent pledge to report allegations of past abuse by priests, the Archdiocese of Chicago is refusing to hand over files on some cases sought by Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services.

The wrangle comes as the archdiocese is touting its new policies regarding abuse cases. Church officials have promised to report allegations to DCFS, even when the purported victim is now an adult.

But that policy will only apply to new complaints. When DCFS director Bryan Samuels last week sought information on adults' charges already in the archdiocese's possession, Cardinal Francis George refused to share it.

"The Department has learned that the archdiocese maintains a list of files and letters regarding past allegations of child abuse by clergy. . . . The archdiocese has not reported those allegations of child abuse to DCFS," Samuels wrote to George on Wednesday -- the day the archdiocese announced its new policies.

Bringing in outside auditors

Archdiocese spokesman Jim Dwyer said Saturday the church once had a practice of sending adults' allegations to DCFS, but stopped at the agency's request.

"They told us to stop doing that, because they said those people are not minors, and they have no jurisdiction over it," Dwyer said.

"We're not going to pull out every file that we have that they didn't want in the past," he said.

The clash between the archdiocese and DCFS arises from two recent cases of alleged abuse by priests. The Rev. Daniel McCormack faces criminal charges he sexually abused three boys. Church officials first learned of allegations against McCormack in August. But, at the time, he remained in his position at St. Agatha Catholic Church after prosecutors declined to charge him. Prosecutors brought criminal charges against McCormack in January.

In the second case, George came under fire for not removing the Rev. Joseph Bennett, a South Holland priest two adult women say abused them as children. One of the alleged victims came forward two years ago, but George did not remove Bennett until this year.

In response to criticism it did not do enough, the archdiocese announced a series of reforms Wednesday. It tapped chancellor Jimmy Lago to oversee abuse investigations, and brought in outside auditors to review the recent cases as well as its monitoring program.

The archdiocese also pledged to report abuse charges to DCFS -- even in cases like Bennett's, where the abuse is alleged to have happened nearly 40 years ago.

'More work to be done'

Letters to George from Samuel reveal the archdiocese announced its reforms after heated exchanges with DCFS, in which the agency demanded more sweeping change. In a letter sent last Tuesday, Samuels listed 11 policies he said the archdiocese needed to adopt to comply with the law. Among them was the insistence the archdiocese report abuse allegations directly to DCFS. In the past, it gave information to county prosecutors, who need a higher burden of proof to take action.

The archdiocese agreed to report allegations directly to DCFS, even if the victim is now an adult. But, sources said, George balked at turning over files on old allegations.

"The passage of time does not lessen the importance of reporting," Samuels wrote to the cardinal on Wednesday.

DCFS spokeswoman Diane Jackson said, "DCFS has reached substantial agreement with the archdiocese regarding practices surrounding child abuse allegations. There is still more work to be done, however."

The extent of the archdiocese files on past allegations is not clear. But one source familiar with the impasse told the Sun-Times Saturday the church's unwillingness to share them could pose a risk to children if the priests are still in ministry.

"There could be a dozen McCormacks out there," the source said.


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