Bridgeport priest reinstated after allegations of sexual abuse deemed ‘unfounded,’ church says
By Sam Kelly And Tom Schuba
November 3, 2019
Father William McFarlane was first asked to step aside from Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel Parish in July after an accusation of a 1997 sexual abuse was brought to the attention of the Archdiocese of Chicago.
A Bridgeport priest who was removed from active ministry has been reinstated after officials found allegations that he sexually abused a child were “unfounded,” according to a statement issued Saturday by Cardinal Blase Cupich.
Father William McFarlane was asked to “step aside” from Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel Parish in July after an accusation that he sexually abused a child in 1997 was brought to the attention of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cupich said.
The archdiocese confirmed that McFarlane would be reinstated in a new role after the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services and the Cook County state’s attorney’s office deemed the allegations “unfounded” and the archdiocese’s independent review board further decided they were unmerited.
“At their meeting on Saturday, October 26, 2019, the Board found that there was insufficient reason to suspect that Father McFarlane had committed sexual abuse of a minor,” Cupich said. “Therefore, I am restoring Father McFarlane to active ministry, effective immediately.”
However, DCFS spokesman Jassen Strokosch said the agency couldn’t investigate the specific abuse accusation against McFarlane because the alleged victim is no longer a minor.
“A DCFS investigation finding of unfounded does not reflect the validity of allegations made by victims who are no longer minors,” Strokosch said. “If the alleged victim is an adult, we look for current child victims or else we can’t do anything.”
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, couldn’t immediately confirm that her office referred any findings in the case to the archdiocese.
”We have not been contacted to review this matter for criminal charges by law enforcement, who would handle the initial investigation,” noted Simonton.
Anne Maselli, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said parishioners were notified of McFarlane’s reinstatement at Saturday evening mass, about an hour before the news was made public. The archdiocese has not yet determined what McFarlane’s new role will entail, according to Maselli, who said Deacon Robert Boharic will remain in his post as pastoral coordinator of Nativity of Our Lord and St. Gabriel Parish.
McFarlane could not be reached for comment.
Members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests criticized the archdiocese’s internal investigation during a news conference Sunday in front of Holy Name Cathedral.
“The church has not done a very good job of policing themselves. So how they could be saying that he should be going back into the ministry is a mystery to me,” said Chicago SNAP leader Larry Antonsen, a deacon at Christ the King Catholic Church in Beverly.
Antonsen, 73, has accused an Augustinian priest of sexually abusing him while he was a student at St. Rita of Cascia High School, but neither the church nor state officials have acknowledged the allegation. He and a few other SNAP members were demonstrating Sunday to mark the second annual “All Survivors’ Day,” which was started to recognize victims of sexual abuse.
“We’re fighting for each other,” he said. “We’re fighting for recognition. We’re fighting for some kind of closure and some kind of justice for survivors everywhere.”