Cardinal George says diocese made mistakes
January 28, 2006 (WLS) -- Francis Cardinal George says mistakes were made in the handling of a priest charged recently with sexually abusing two young boys. The cardinal faced reporters' questions Saturday, just 24 hours after being released from a hospital, where he was taken complaining of dizziness.
Cardinal George answered questions about the Reverend Daniel McCormack. McCormack is charged with criminal sexual abuse.
Cardinal George admitted for the first time Saturday that the archdiocese "could have" and "should have" removed this priest sooner. They didn't because they stuck to church policy that requires the allegation to come from either the victim or his family.
In this case, the alleged victim and his family repeatedly refused to talk with church investigations. So the archdiocese investigation into Father McCormack essentially stalled.
"He was a priest whose reputation was sterling," said Frances Cardinal George.
Father Dan McCormack's star was on the rise in the Catholic Church last summer. The cardinal had just promoted him to oversee West Side parishes and parishioners at St. Agatha's, praised his sermons and style.
At the same time, police were working-up a case against the priest. In August, detectives interviewed Father McCormack about an allegation that he sexually abused an 8-year-old boy in the church.
The priest informed church leaders about the interrogation. The next month, prosecutors said there wasn't enough evidence to bring charges.
"We didn't know what the allegation was. We didn't know who the young child, the alleged victim, was. We just simply knew he was taken in for questioning and released," Frances Cardinal George.
Because of the lack of specific information, the cardinal says Father McCormack was allowed to stay at St. Agatha's although he was told to avoid being alone with children and another priest was assigned to keep an eye on him.
Church leaders finally removed McCormack when a second boy came forward earlier this month. He claims the priest abused him several times a month from September of 2001 until January of 2005.
"Approximately 98 percent of allegations turn out to be true. So what are we doing leaving this priest out there on just the two percent chance this is a false accusation?" said Barbara Blaine, abuse victims' support group.
"Had I known then what I know now, we would have found some way to take him out," said Cardinal George.
The cardinal concedes that potential warning signs were missed and the church's own investigation of McCormack could have been more thorough. Mistakes were made, he says, but not because of a desire to protect this priest.
"To find out as I have that there is another side to him is a learning experience, which is very sad, but necessary, for the protection of children," said the cardinal.
Cardinal George says the church's own policy of reporting potential abuse was not followed. Back in 2000, a nun told the Sun-Times, she wrote a letter to the archdiocese and talked by phone with school officials about a report that Father McCormack had asked a boy at holy family school to take down his pants. The church has no record of the letter. There are different versions of what was said in the phone call.
But Saturday the cardinal confirmed that the call did take place. What is clear is no one, not the nun, not catholic school leaders, alerted police or prosecutors. That would have been well before the time these two boys say they were abused.
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