Sex-Abuse Policies Toughened

By Michelle Martin
The Catholic New World [Chicago IL]
March 5, 2006

Cardinal George did not respond publicly to calls for his resignation from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, but archdiocesan officials said the cardinal has no intention of leaving his post in the wake of sexual abuse charges against Father Daniel McCormack.

Several new protocols to strengthen the already revamped policies were agreed to following a series of meetings with the state Department of Children and Family Services.

"I believe the cardinal has acted very responsibly," said archdiocesan Chancellor Jimmy Lago. "We've got a whole approach to make sure that what happened with the McCormack case does not happen again. I think calls for his resignation are irresponsible. We've had good policies and practices going back 15 years."

The cardinal has publicly apologized several times for his handling of McCormack's case, and instituted a series of changes in procedures aimed at preventing a similar situation from happening again.

Among those changes are appointing Lago to oversee all issues involving clerical sexual abuse of minors, hiring outside consultants—both former federal agents—to evaluate the handling of McCormack's case and the archdiocese's monitoring procedures of priests accused of sexual abuse and a commitment to share allegations with DCFS, even when the allegations are brought by an adult and date back decades. The archdiocese also can begin an investigation when an allegation is made to police or other civil authorities.

McCormack, 37, former pastor of St. Agatha Parish on the West Side, was arrested in January and charged with molesting two boys, both whom he met when they were students at Our Lady of the Westside School. Soon after, he was charged with molesting a third boy, who lived in the neighborhood, and who said that the priest had abused him until a few weeks before the arrest.

The case drew widespread outcry because Chicago police had questioned McCormack about the accusations of the first boy in late August 2005. Police released him because they did not have enough evidence to bring charges against him. Archdiocesan officials did not remove McCormack because it never received the formal allegation from the boy or his family, however they did assign another priest to monitor his activities.

Police did not charge McCormack until the second boy made statements that led a school administrator at Our Lady of the Westside to call police in January.

SNAP's calls for the cardinal's resignation came during demonstrations after Masses Feb. 26 at Holy Name Cathedral and at St. Agatha. However, rather than supporting the advocacy group, media reports said parishioners told the SNAP representatives they supported the cardinal.

The group's actions came after it was acknowledged that members of the archdiocese's independent review board had advised the cardinal to remove McCormack last fall—a step the cardinal did not take because he felt he did not have enough information. The board made no formal recommendation because it did not have an actual allegation, which it believed it needed to open a formal investigation.

However, DCFS did investigate the accusations against McCormack after the police questioned him in August. DCFS officials acknowledged in February that they did not notify the archdiocese of their investigation, or that they had determined that the accusations were "founded," despite policies of notifying the employers of anyone who works with children about investigations and their conclusions. McCormack, who taught a math class at Our Lady of the Westside and coached a basketball team, would have fit under that policy.

In the meantime, Samuels told reporters that his agency is investigating allegations against McCormack from several other children, but did not give details.

As the scandal in the McCormack case played out, a Wisconsin jury on Feb. 23 convicted Jesuit Father Donald J. McGuire, 75, of molesting two boys on vacations near Lake Geneva. The boys were students at Loyola Academy, where McGuire taught. While he was accused of abusing them at the school as well, he could not be tried in Illinois because the statute of limitations had expired. The following day, the Chicago Province Jesuits released a statement apologizing to the victims and saying the society would continue its own investigation, which could result in his removal from the priesthood.


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