Chicago Public Radio WBEZ - October 22, 2010
Sex Abuse Lurks Behind Catholic Election
Produced by Chip Mitchell
The nation’s Catholic bishops will choose a new leader next month. Both their outgoing president and the bishop likely to take his place have strong ties to Chicago. That’s not all they have in common. Both clerics advanced the career of a priest who molested as many as 23 boys. That’s despite receiving allegations about his misconduct. If the election goes as expected, it’ll provide ammunition to people who argue there’s no accountability for bishops who protect abusers. We report from our West Side bureau.
Daniel McCormack went to prison in 2007 for abusing boys when he was pastor of St. Agatha’s. That’s a parish in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. To learn more about McCormack, I sit down with a father whose son attended the Catholic school next to the parish.
FATHER: You would try to get to the bottom of it but there was no real way to figure out what was going on.
I’m keeping the man’s name to myself to protect his son’s identity. The father says his boy started acting out around age 11 after joining a basketball team McCormack coached. The man didn’t find out what was going on until recently. His son’s now 20.
FATHER: He was, like, ‘Dad, there’s something I want to talk to you about.’
The father says McCormack was fondling his son at basketball practice. The abuse didn’t stop there.
FATHER: He would have the children doing tasks around the building. He’d pay them. And there was one incident specifically. It had started raining. My son was out in the yard, doing some yard work. He had gotten muddy. After getting done with what he was told to do, out in the yard, he went inside. Dan told my son to get out of the clothes: ‘Go and take a shower.’ As my son was getting out of the shower, he would bend him over. He inserted... He inserted his penis in my son. And this happened more than once.
The man says McCormack abused his boy for more than three years. The family’s now hired an attorney to see if the Chicago archdiocese will agree to a settlement.
FATHER: I feel really betrayed. We entrusted these people with our child.
Ambi: Paper shuffling.
MITCHELL: You ever heard of Gerald Kicanas? He’s the bishop of Tuscon, Arizona, now.
I tell the North Lawndale father how Kicanas helped get McCormack’s career off the ground. This was in the early ’90s. Kicanas was rector of an archdiocese seminary where McCormack studied.
Here’s what happened: Kicanas received reports about three McCormack sexual-misconduct cases, one involving a minor. But Kicanas still approved McCormack for ordination.
FATHER: How do you do these things in the name of God?
I tell the North Lawndale father how the Chicago archdiocese assigned McCormack to other parishes before St. Agatha’s. McCormack attracted more accusations, but Cardinal Francis George promoted him in 2005 to help oversee other West Side parishes.
Around that time, Chicago police arrested McCormack on suspicion of child molestation but they released him without charges. Cardinal George kept McCormack in his posts // even after the archdiocese sexual-abuse review board urged his removal. The father can’t believe this.
FATHER: How is it that you’re notified that someone in your parish is doing something to children and these people are still getting higher appointments?
It wasn’t until McCormack’s second arrest -- more than four months after the first -- that George finally yanked him. The delay outraged victim advocates.
But George’s peers still elected him president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2007. And who did the bishops elect as vice president? Kicanas, the man who approved McCormack’s ordination in the first place.
DOYLE: They’ve looked the other way.
Thomas Doyle is a priest and canon lawyer who helped write a 1985 report about clergy sexual abuse. He split from church leaders, saying they weren’t following his recommendations. Doyle says bishops kept handling abusers the way Kicanas and George handled McCormack.
DOYLE: They’ve maintained secrecy. They’ve secretly transferred the priests. So they have aided and abetted the commission of crimes. But there has been no instance where the pope has called any bishop accountable.
Now U.S. bishops are getting ready to elect a president to succeed George. If they stick with tradition, they’ll elevate the vice president. Again, that’s Bishop Kicanas, the former rector of McCormack’s seminary.
I left several messages for Kicanas about the election but he didn’t get back. I called the Chicago archdiocese to speak with Cardinal George or a spokesperson. His staff referred me to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. A spokeswoman there said child sexual abuse is not an election issue and no one else would be commenting.
So I called up Jeff Field of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His group often defends how church leaders handle sex-abuse cases.
FIELD: To deny a bishop a promotion because of what some deem as improper -- when what they do is in line with the church -- is wrong. It’s ridiculous.
In other words, bishops shouldn’t face punishment if they followed church policies. And the church claims it didn’t know that predators keep at it.
SLATTERY: Much of the research on sex abusers really began in the ’90s. It’s a relatively new body of research.
Jan Slattery heads Chicago archdiocese programs for victims and child safety. She says the way church officials dealt with McCormack used to be routine.
SLATTERY: We were very quick to take the word of lawyers and psychologists. At one point in time even criminal systems were not putting men in prison for this. They were getting them treatment. But that’s changed.
And Slattery’s right. A church audit found U.S. bishops received fewer clergy sex-abuse accusations in 2009 // than in any year since 2004. Most of the alleged incidents happened decades earlier.
But that’s why McCormack stands out. He was abusing the North Lawndale boys just five years ago. And just three years ago, a newspaper quoted Bishop Kicanas saying he was right to allow McCormack’s ordination.
I asked Slattery how she likes the idea of bishops electing leaders who advanced McCormack’s career. She didn’t respond. I asked if she’s aware of any discipline for McCormack’s supervisors.
SLATTERY: I’m not going to be privileged to that if that happened.
There are people taking a big-picture look at the Catholic sexual-abuse crisis and whether the church should reconsider leadership. Here’s Boston College theologian Thomas Groome.
GROOME: Celibacy is part of a complex culture that gives priests a sense of deference and entitlement and elitism that can lead to perverse behavior, apparently.
Groome says making bishops accountable would require changing how the church is governed.
GROOME: There are ways available, even within canon law. The canon law of the Catholic Church calls for parish councils, diocesan councils -- priests and lay people having voice and representation. We’ve never implemented that. And some of it will be reform and some of it will be renewal. For example, when you go back into the history of the church, you find that the priests of a diocese had a real voice in choosing their bishop. And, if you go back far enough, in certain places, even the people had a real voice in choosing their bishop.
But, for now, the faithful don’t have that voice. And only the bishops can vote in next month’s election. So, barring the unforeseen, their next president -- like the one stepping down -- will have ties to the man who abused the North Lawndale boys.
This article was found at:
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Secrecy allegations in priest sex abuse case