Cook County Sheriff reopens investigation of priest

By Francine Knowles
Chicago Sun-Times
April 21, 2014

[with video]

The Cook County Sheriff’s office said Monday it has resumed investigating a Catholic priest just days after the Archdiocese of Chicago announced that a sexual abuse allegation against the priest was unfounded.

The Rev. Michael W. O’Connell was reinstated last week to active ministry as pastor of St. Alphonsus on the North Side.

The sheriff’s office declined to say what prompted the new investigation but it comes as a former Illinois resident appeared at a news conference Monday. The man, who refused to identify himself, alleged he witnessed O’Connell behaving improperly at a south suburban gym years ago.

The man said he reported the incident to authorities Monday but did not tell police or the archdiocese at the time.

He spoke at a news conference held Monday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

The new allegation follows another one made last December that O’Connell engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor nearly 20 years ago while assigned to Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park. At the request of Cardinal Francis George, O’Connell agreed to step aside while investigations of the allegation were conducted.

Last week, the sheriff’s office said it investigated the allegation while working with the State’s Attorney’s office and was unable to support any charges.

The archdiocese also said an Archdiocesan Independent Review Board investigation did not find reason to suspect that sexual abuse of a minor had occurred and recommended that O’Connell be returned to active ministry. O’Connell’s first day back was last Thursday.

“Based on a new allegation that came forward today, we have re-opened the investigation,” said a sheriff’s office spokeswoman, Eleni Demertzis, in an emailed statement Monday. She declined to comment further.

O’Connell, 57, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

“I have never done anything inappropriate to a young person,” O’Connell said at a news conference last week.

The archdiocese said it has not yet met with the alleged witness. Representatives had hoped to do so Monday, but that was delayed, said Jan Slattery, director of the archdiocese’s Office for Protection of Children and Youth.

O’Connell was notified of the latest allegation, but no archdiocese action has been taken against him.

“When a person comes forward, we welcome that, and we will begin the [investigation] process again and we will look at it,” Slattery said. “If there appears to be something that needs an immediate or interim action, then that would be recommended at that time. But we really have nothing to act on right now.”

O’Connell served as pastor of Our Lady of the Woods from 1997 to 2012. Since July 2012, he has served as pastor of St. Alphonsus. St. Alphonsus parish includes St. Alphonsus Catholic Church and St. Alphonsus Academy & Center for the Arts, a pre-school and elementary school.



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