Children Nicknamed Priest 'Happy Hands'

By Kim Janssen
Chicago Sun-Times
January 21, 2014

[Daniel Mark Holihan]


Daniel Mark Holihan, 83, was one of 14 priests named in lawsuits the archdiocese settled in 2005 for an undisclosed amount.

Known to students at Our Lady of the Snows as “Happy Hands” Holihan — because of his habit of being suspiciously grabby during horseplay with children — he allegedly started abusing boys in 1968. Though restrictions were placed on him after he was accused of abuse in 1986, Holihan wasn’t removed from public ministry until 2002.

Records released this week show some church officials were conflicted about how to handle his case.

A parent who wrote to Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1986 alleged the parish had known of Holihan’s problems for some time by then. The mom said she had previously dismissed the allegations as “idle gossip” but had since heard from friends she trusted whose children she believed were sexually abused.

“I have no hardcore evidence against our pastor,” she wrote the cardinal. “Please get him some help, or get him away from children.”

The rumors included the suggestion that Holihan was taking boys to his cottage, but Holihan denied them and there is no record of police being called.

Stronger evidence emerged four years later, in 1990, after children at Our Lady of Snow who had watched an educational police video about abuse came forward with allegations against Holihan.

Though the Illinois Department for Children and Family Services was immediately contacted, church leaders were at least as concerned about the fallout from the scandal than the plight of any victims, according to a memo written by Vicar of Priests Raymond Goedert.

Noting that the parish’s pastor emeritus, Leo Kinsella, had reported that a Polish cleaner had previously claimed to have “discovered Mark (Holihan) in bed with a young boy,” Goedert wrote: “Leo’s concern now is that (the cleaner) is returning from Poland this Friday. When she finds out what is going on, she may blab and blow the whole thing up in our faces.”

Though DCFS found credible evidence of abuse in 12 cases, the Cook County State’s Attorney office declined to prosecute Holihan, who was sent by the church to minister the elderly in nursing homes in an attempt to keep him away from children.

Holihan continued to deny any wrongdoing as more victims came forward in the years that followed.

“All I can feel is (that victims) are reaching out for more money,” he wrote in a 2005 memo.

But a month later Cardinal Francis George formally found that Holihan was an abuser.

However, George refused to defrock Holihan, noting “given Father Holihan’s age and the fact that it would be more dangerous to allow him out in public without being monitored carefully, I have decided not to ask for the ultimate penalty in this matter.”

“I also dispense Father Holihan from the obligation to wear ecclesiastical garb, and strongly urge that he not wear such attire at any time, in any place. ... Father Holihan’s life should be marked by prayer and penance, in sincere contrition for the harm that he has caused the children he has abused, and the church which he has wounded by his sinning. He is directed to spend at least one hour per day in prayer for the victims of abuse, particularly those whom he has harmed.”

In August 2008, Holihan finally admitted “intimate relationships” with minors but claimed that they enjoyed it and that he was still friendly and visiting with the boys, who were now grown up.

Chafing under the cardinal’s restrictions, he “laicized” himself in 2008 after the archdiocese offered him a “modest compensation package” if he agreed to do so.


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