DCFS Failed to Notify Archdiocese in Priest Abuse Case
By Ofelia Casillas firstname.lastname@example.org and Manya A. Brachear email@example.com
Chicago Tribune [Illinois]
February 22, 2006
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services apparently violated its own policies when it failed to notify Catholic officials the agency had found credible evidence that a West Side pastor had abused a child, according to a Tribune review of DCFS procedures.
Agency policies available online state that if DCFS investigates a person who is in a job that puts him in frequent contact with children, the agency is required to notify employers about the allegations of abuse and the result of the investigation. If the person works for a school, the school administrator must be told.
But DCFS has said it did not notify Cardinal Francis George, other Chicago archdiocese officials or the school where Rev. Daniel McCormack worked that it was investigating him, and it also did not tell them the outcome of the investigation.
While archdiocese officials have acknowledged they did not move quickly enough to remove McCormack and did not pursue an aggressive investigation themselves, they said Tuesday that they were not the only responsible party to make mistakes.
"It was our understanding if there was a founded claim that it would be reported to the cardinal," said communications director Colleen Dolan. "They said in their policy that it would be reported to [the person's] employer. Even though the cardinal is not a technical employer of a priest or pastor, he's the closest thing to it."
The combined lack of action allowed McCormack to remain in ministry at St. Agatha parish and to work at Our Lady of the West Side Catholic School, where he taught algebra and coached boys basketball, for five months after he was first accused. He was arrested and removed last month after a second boy came forward with allegations.
On Tuesday, DCFS declined to respond to written questions submitted a day earlier by the Tribune, saying it was still looking into the mattter. A spokeswoman told the Tribune last week that DCFS had launched an investigation of McCormack, found the abuse allegation to be credible, and notified Chicago police, McCormack and his lawyer.
"Why would you only notify the perpetrators?" Dolan said. "Why wouldn't you notify their employer or superior?"
A Chicago police spokeswoman said Tuesday that police had notified DCFS officials Aug. 25 of the allegations against McCormack but that the agency did not report back on the outcome of the investigation.
Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lago announced last week that the archdiocese would work more closely with DCFS to determine whether priests should be removed from ministry while an abuse claim is investigated. Lago also said that from now on abuse allegations would be reported to DCFS even if the alleged victim was an adult, as long as the abuse took place when he or she was a minor.
DCFS Director Bryan Samuels insisted that his department also be allowed to investigate abuse allegations against priests dating to 1950. That way, the names of priests credibly accused can be entered and tracked through a DCFS registry to prevent them from working with children, Samuels said.
But church officials have said they are reluctant to comply, and on Tuesday Dolan said DCFS' offer of assistance in investigating abuse cases would have been more useful in August.
"We relied on them and it wasn't there--the support that they offer and they claim they would give," Dolan said. "Now they're saying they want to deal with us more. But the one time we've had an `in real time' case it would have been very helpful had they followed their own protocols."
John Goad, who served as deputy chief of child protection for DCFS until 2003, said the agency should have followed its procedures for investigations into teachers or alleged abusers who have contact with children. Both policies require DCFS to contact employers when the investigation begins and when it concludes.
"He is a teacher and a coach. The fact that he's a priest does not change any of that," Goad said. "That case should be handled as any school child abuse investigation. No different because he is a priest."
DCFS' policies for dealing with abuse allegations are detailed and specific. When an abuse investigation is launched, investigators are required to notify the appropriate supervisor of the employee if he or she has frequent contact with children.
In addition, if DCFS launches a formal investigation of a teacher, its policy requires the department notify the school administrator and school district superintendent by phone and that the verbal notification be followed up in writing within two days.
Once the investigation is complete, DCFS must share its finding with the district, regional superintendent and even, in some cases, the Illinois State Board of Education. In the case of a private school, the school administrator must be told.
According to church officials, DCFS did not follow any of those procedures. The agency did not notify the archdiocese of the investigation; in fact, the first conversation with DCFS that church officials could recall was in January, after McCormack was arrested and well after DCFS had completed its investigation.
The agency also failed to tell school administrators of its findings, archdiocese officials said.
While DCFS has a policy on "unfounded reports" of abuse involving clergy--the agency must notify religious authorities of the results of its investigation--the Tribune and church officials could find no procedure to deal with credible allegations against clergy.
Some child welfare experts said a specific procedure should exist.
"It is very important to look at either the Catholic Church or clergy in general as a separate entity in terms of how they handle certain responses and reports of abuse or neglect," said Cook County Public Guardian Robert Harris. "It bears that kind of importance in society. Children cycle through churches and synagogues, and so they should recognize their role in a lot of children's lives."
Richard Calica, executive director of the non-profit Juvenile Protective Association, said that just as the department has a specific policy for teachers, it should for clergy.
"Since priests do have access to children in a special way through schools or activities, and they occupy a position of respect and power over children the same way teachers do, the department ought to have a procedure that would be a little more specific," he said.
But, Calica added, that does not let the archdiocese off the hook. Church and child welfare officials should work together to hold priests accountable, he said.
"It ought to be double trouble for a priest," Calica said. "At the end of the day if the department discovers that the allegation is credible, that a priest has molested a child, it would seem to me the archdiocese needs to know that."
Still, some experts cautioned that priests are unlike any other employees.
"The church has a responsibility to care for and foster its priests," said Patricia Ewers, head of the National Review Board, the U.S. Catholic bishops' lay watchdog panel on abuse cases. "That is much more complex than the employee-employer relationship."
Gaylord Gieseke, vice president of Voices for Illinois Children, said church and state agencies should come together to do what is best for children.
"Throwing around too much blame at this stage of the game could interfere with that process rather than help it," she said.
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