Security Upgraded at House for Accused Priests

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times
September 25, 2006

Officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese are beefing up security at a Mundelein Seminary house where eight priests live after being removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

"We're looking at tightening up our residence at the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House to include things like surveillance cameras and key cards, and we lock the doors after a certain hour," said Jimmy Lago, chancellor of the archdiocese.

Key cards, new locks

"The whole point is to figure out who's in and who's out," Lago continued. "We're going to have to build this one brick at a time."

The key cards will allow archdiocesan officials to know who's coming and who's going and when. Locks at the retreat house also have been changed so residents no longer have master keys that open all the doors, he said.

The new measures are part of changes the archdiocese is making based on recommendations in a scathing report published in March that criticized the archdiocese's "monitoring program" for priests removed from ministry because of allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Cardinal Francis George commissioned that report after the case of the Rev. Daniel McCormack, a 37-year-old priest in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood who has been criminally charged with abusing six boys at St. Agatha parish between September 2001 and December 2005. McCormack has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

McCormack is accused of continuing to abuse children even while being "monitored" by another priest.

Only 1 out of 8 is convicted

Mundelein Police Chief Raymond Rose said archdiocesan officials have been diligent in communicating with his department about security issues at the Stritch house.

"There's an ongoing dialogue about what's happening [at the house] and how everybody is doing," Rose said.

Eleven accused priests were living at the Stritch house a year ago, but currently only eight accused priests reside on the Mundelein campus, Rose said. He declined to provide names.

Of the eight accused priests, only one -- Ralph Strand -- is a convicted sex offender, he said.

Law enforcement and archdiocesan officials are limited in what kind of restrictions they can impose on the priests who live at the house, as most of them have never faced criminal charges, Rose said.

Only Strand, who Rose said is in failing health, is required by law to register as a sex offender.

Mundelein residents wary

"We've done as much as we've been able to legally," Rose said. A year ago, when his community first learned the accused priests were living at Mundelein Seminary, Rose said he heard complaints from residents worried that Mundelein had become a "warehouse for sex offenders."

"Clearly that is not the case," Rose said, adding it has been made clear to the archdiocese that Mundelein won't tolerate any more convicted sex offenders living at the seminary.

Archdiocesan officials plan to make public a full report on the monitoring changes in coming weeks, Lago said.



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