Priest Gets 5 Years for Molesting Boys

Associated Press, carried in Daily Herald [Chicago, IL]
July 3, 2007

A Chicago priest accused of fondling young boys pleaded guilty Monday to five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was immediately sentenced to serve five years in prison.

The Rev. Daniel McCormack, 38, was accused of abusing five boys between the ages of 8 and 12 in the rectory of St. Agatha Catholic Church, where he served as parish priest.

McCormack also was an algebra teacher and boys' basketball coach at the nearby Our Lady of the Westside School's two campuses. Some victims were members of the basketball team; others were friends of boys who attended the school, prosecutors said.

The Archdiocese of Chicago drew intense criticism over its handling of the case. McCormack was not removed from the West Side parish and school until he first was charged in January 2006 — several months after one of the allegations was made against him.

Cardinal Francis George conceded he failed to act quickly enough and launched an eight-month internal church investigation that found that procedures for removing priests from the ministry are "far from perfect."

During the hearing in Cook County circuit court, McCormack wore khaki pants and a yellow shirt. Before entering his plea, he said he understood the charges against him and that he could be headed to prison, but declined to make a statement.

Judge Thomas Sumner sentenced McCormack to five years in prison for each aggravated criminal sexual abuse count, but the sentences will be served concurrently.

For prosecutors, the plea deal they reached with McCormack was a "no-brainer," said Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Boliker.

McCormack agreed to plead guilty to the original charges he faced, and the maximum sentence for those charges is between three and seven years in prison, she said. By sacrificing what possibly could have been a slightly longer sentence, prosecutors spared the victims from having to testify, Boliker said.

"We are very proud of the courage of these five children," she said.

The archdiocese said in a statement that now that McCormack has entered a guilty plea, George has instructed his staff to begin the process of removing McCormack from the priesthood.

"The sexual abuse of children is a sin and a crime," George said in the statement. "When the abuser is a priest, the whole church is affected. Such misconduct by a priest or anyone else associated with the archdiocese cannot be tolerated."

Attorney Marc Pearlman, who represented several of the victims, said he was disappointed McCormack did not receive a harsher sentence.

For the boys, McCormack's guilty plea was "a very important day for them in the sense of getting some closure. On the other hand, this is just the beginning of their journey of healing," Pearlman said.

Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she was pleased the victims were spared the stress of a trial.

But she said McCormack's guilty plea means "the dirty secrets of the diocese remain hidden and secret."

"It (would) never have come to this had Cardinal George done his job correctly," she said. "Father McCormack has received a sentence of five years, but the boys have a lifelong sentence."

McCormack's defense attorneys declined to comment as they left the courthouse.

Some of the accusations dated to 2001. Chicago police took McCormack into custody and investigated an accusation against him in August 2005 but released him, saying there was not enough evidence to pursue the case.

McCormack was not charged or removed as pastor until after the school's principal, Barbara Westrick, informed police, the archdiocese and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services of allegations one boy made to her in January 2006.

Westrick learned last month that the archdiocese would not renew her contract.


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