Survivors Group: Did House Chaplain Once Hide Clergy Sex Crimes?

By David Edwards and Muriel Kane
Raw Story

November 20, 2008

Roll Call revealed Wednesday that the Catholic priest who currently serves as chaplain for the House of Representatives formerly oversaw a retreat outside Chicago where troubled priests were sent, including those accused of sexual misconduct.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) has issued a statement concerning these revelations about Rev. Daniel Coughlin. "Sadly, this is a familiar pattern in the Chicago archdiocese: a priest who successfully keeps quiet about clergy sex crimes wins a promotion. ... Among other questions, Coughlin needs to be asked, 'Did you ever call the police about any of these known or alleged crimes and if not, why not?'"

SNAP has also issued a press release blasting Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago archdiocese for recommending Coughlin for the House chaplainship and demanding that "Coughlin ... openly address this question and other questions about his role in keeping clergy sex crimes hidden."

The Roll Call article does not suggest that any impropriety at the Congressional end was involved in Coughlin's selection. However, the fact that no one in the House of Representatives appears to have been aware of their chaplain's past work does raise questions about the vetting process

When the previous House chaplain retired in 2000 and then-Speaker Dennis Hasters nominated a Presbyterian clergyman as his replacement, it led to a firestorm of charges that Hastert and the Republican leadership were anti-Catholic. Hastert turned in desperation to Cardinal George, who suggested five candidates.Because the original search committee had already disbanded, Hastert's staff interviewed two of the possibilities themselves and settled on Coughlin, in large part because he told them that in his position as vicar for priests, "most of the work is very confidential."

"That's the word they liked the most," Coughlin told Roll Call. "Confidential."

What Hastert's staffers did not ask, and Coughlin did not volunteer, was that he had spent the previous ten years, from 1990 to 2000, first directing a retreat for troubled priests and then serving as their vicar. A dozen of the priests Coughlin was responsible for were ultimately forced out of the priesthood and at least ten were alleged sexual abusers.

At that time, the Chicago archdiocese was still attempting to keep allegations of sexual abuse quiet. Following a nation-wide wave of public accusations in 2002, it altered its policies and has since settled lawsuits with dozens of alleged victims and paid out millions of dollars in damages.

SNAP notes in particular that in 1999, Coughlin petitioned for the state of Wisconsin to release a convicted child molester, who remains in prison to this day because he is considered to be a threat to children. Although Cardinal George denies having approved Coughlin's letter, he made his own attempts to get the former priest out of prison.

Barbara Blaine, president of SNAP, told ABC News, "It goes back to Cardinal George's recklessness, lack of leadership and his lack of judgment that he would somehow now go and promote Father Coughlin, who may have been involved in covering up abuse by predators."

According to Roll Call, Coughlin argues that he "did not create the policies for handling accused priests and had no authority to decide how the church should deal with allegations against them. ... He was the point man for carrying out the church's legal obligations to priests who, under church law, could not simply be fired and cut loose."

A spokeswoman for the Chicago archdiocese confirmed this description, telling Roll Call, "As director of the Stritch Retreat House, Father Coughlin was responsible for the development and presentation of spiritual retreat programs for priests, deacons and others. He was not responsible for the management, supervision or ongoing monitoring of priests removed from ministry."

However, Coughlin did acknowledge to Roll Call that when any of the priests under his care ultimately decided to quit the priesthood, "I became more anxious because we were trying to control this as much as we could ... because now he wasn’t under our control at all."


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