Priest Won't Be Alone with Kids during Re-opened Child Sex Probe
By Lorraine Swanson
April 23, 2014
|Rev. Michael W. O'Connell | St. Alphonsus|
A Chicago priest has agreed not to enter the school or be alone with children at his current parish until a second allegation of child sex abuse is sorted out.
Rev. Michael W. O’Connell was reinstated at St. Alphonsus Church at 1429 W. Wellington Ave. on April 17, when law enforcement authorities could not find evidence to support an earlier claim of sexual misconduct with a minor at a south suburban parish from 20 years ago.
O’Connell was removed from ministry at St. Alphonsus when the earlier allegation surfaced last December.
In recent weeks, a 33-year-old Nevada man, “John Doe #2,” contacted SNAP, the Survivor’s Network of those Abuse by Priests, stating that he witnessed O’Connell touching and fondling a younger male at an Orland Park fitness club around 1999 or 2000. John Doe #2 was 19 or 20 years old when he witnessed the alleged assault.
According to the witness, the youth was introduced to him by O’Connell as an incoming freshman at Marist High School in Chicago. John Doe #2 said he didn’t report the incident to authorities because O’Connell allegedly threatened him.
SNAP president Barbara Blaine said during a sidewalk press conference in front of the Archdiocese of Chicago pastoral center on Monday that the witness had spent all that morning speaking with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
“The most recent [claim] is being taken seriously by law enforcement officials,” Blaine stated in a news advisory.
Archdiocese officials from the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth met with the second witness on Tuesday.
“He was accompanied by a representative from SNAP. The person provided limited information. He did not provide his name, street address, town or state of residence and declined to answer many questions,” archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Barritt said in an email.
The witness’s “limited information” is under investigation by the Archdiocese’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, which will be reviewed and discussed with the Independent Review Board for its advice.
“The Archdiocese will cooperate with any further investigation that may be undertaken by civil authorities.,” Barritt said. “Unless there is further information that warrants additional action, Fr. Michael O’Connell will remain in ministry.”
Until then, O’Connell has agreed to stay out of the St. Alphonsus parish school, and not be alone with children. Barritt told Patch that a monitor will not be assigned to watch over O’Connell.
“We want to do the right thing. Fr. O’Connell wants to the right thing. He’ll do anything to make people comfortable,” Barritt said. “He’s a priest. Nothing has changed. He’s a pastor and he has agreed not to be present in the school.
Blaine called the archdiocese’s plan to let O’Connell monitor himself “ridiculous.”
“It's like putting a drug addict to work in a pharmacy and claiming ‘he's agreed to never be alone with pills,’” she said. “This is precisely the claim that hundreds of bishops made for decades: that somehow, priests could still be in parishes and stay away from kids because their colleagues will supervise them 24/7.”
The Archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious, lay employee or volunteer, to come forward. Complete information about reporting sexual abuse can be found on the Archdiocesan website under Protecting Children or by calling the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, 312-534-5205 or 1-800-994-6200, or the Office of Assistance Ministry, 312-534-8267 or toll-free at 866-517-4528.