Monday, July 17, 2006

Archdiocese Staffers Didn’t Give Cardinal Facts He Needed to Stop Child Sexual Abuse Says Independent Audit. Story is Uncovered by Mainstream Media and the Question is Why?

[This column appeared in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic weekly newspaper compiled from facts available to Chicago’s “mainstream media” but either ignored or buried.]

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—Inexplicable delays, missing records and violations of Illinois state law concerning child pedophilia brims to overflowing in an official report commissioned by the archdiocese. The criticism indicts the Church bureaucracy in heavily critical terms—but which goes largely ignored by the secular news media.

Ignored by the media which concentrated on leveling blame on Francis Cardinal George, either burying or skipping the charges in the report that George was kept in the dark. The report shows clearly that high-up bureaucratic policy-makers stifled charges against an indicted young priest who skipped through his seminary years as a favorite despite a series of purported sexual offenses.

A long litany of either willful misfeasance or bureaucratic incompetence leads credence to the suspicion, gaining attention here, that a group of holdover officials may well have maneuvered to bring Cardinal George sufficient embarrassment early this year. He reportedly considered, for a short time at least, retiring as archbishop which would have deprived the active bishopric of its most gifted theologian and philosopher, one named and highly admired by John Paul II.

Many of those linked with the indicted Fr. Daniel McCormack, are either still in power or have been promoted. They continue to serve a prelate who is exceedingly over-burdened with administrative and Vatican-related duties and generally regarded as oblivious to the guile of officials in the rabbit’s warren of chancery offices. Many perform duties he cannot possibly oversee because of his taxing schedule.

Much is contained in what is known as the Defenbaugh study prompts skepticism as to whether all the time-lags and lost papers were carelessness or malfeasance by administrators who want the prelate, a gentle and self-effacing man with a superb pastoral sense, to step down--the goal being to prompt the Vatican to replace him with an archbishop in the strident pro-secular liberal mode as the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin. Cardinal George’s theology is rigorous in contrast to the play-it-as-it-lies style of Cardinal Bernardin. He was regarded as an idol by the left, a man who encouraged a mixture of political liberalism and church dogma who even criticized portions of the gospel of John (himself a Jew) as anti-Semitic.

Defenbaugh & Associates, a highly regarded consultant located in Dallas, was retained to audit the Chicago archdiocese’s handling of alleged priestly abuse cases. The choice of Defenbaugh may have been a mistake by Bernardin-supporters because it contains severe criticism of the bureaucracy the late Cardinal left behind. Defenbaugh is an independent auditor with no ties to the archdiocese, trained one focus of its report on the incident that triggered a national outcry on laxity of enforcement which Cardinal George accepted immediately as his full responsibility. But while the news media here acquiesced with the Cardinal’s generous self-accusation, they did not extensively cover the findings of a 57-page, single-spaced typed report.

If the media had, they would have extensively reported this finding:

Fr. McCormack, the 37-year-old priest whose arrest prompted widespread criticism of the Cardinal including some calls for his resignation, was arrested and detained by the Chicago Police Department on August 30, 2005 based on an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor. Cardinal George was not notified of the arrest until 3 p.m. on September 2, two and one-half days later, notwithstanding the fact that he was available in the United States, was at the Stritch Retreat Center at University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein from late evening on August 28 through noon on September 1 and returned to his office on September 2. Defenbaugh’s report says “Interviews of involved parties identified that the Archdiocese of Chicago did not follow policy in notification of Cardinal George of the arrest/detainment of Fr. McCormack.” That is a serious indictment. In the secular corporate world, not notifying a chief executive officer in a serious matter like this, would involve officers’ dismissal. Not so here. If it happened in government, it would prompt a furor.

Why the Cardinal wasn’t notified earlier, is the question. The audit shows that during that time, instead of notifying the Cardinal, when child well-being was at stake and one whose credibility as archdiocesan leader was at issue, bureaucrats “displayed great consternation to the point of being mired in semantics as it pertains to the meaning of allegation, attempting to identify if the allegation was `formal or informal,’ `credible or not credible’ `substantiated or unsubstantiated’, `second party or third party’ and ‘what to do with the allegation’.” The report finds bluntly that “these concerns and non-action…created situations whereby children were placed at risk.”

The delay seems to have served only the interest of Fr. McCormack, a clear favorite of some higher-ups while he was in the seminary and as a priest. Immediately after the pedophilia charge was made public by the police, one of the old Bernardin group’s favorite liberals who was in his 22nd year of service as pastor of St. Gertrude’s, an outpost of liberal politicization in the Edgewater area of the city, captured huge headlines. Fr. Bill Kenneally, a favorite of the two major newspapers, said that if Cardinal George was found guilty of misfeasance, he should resign. Chicago’s two newspapers have called Fr. Kenneally “a beloved priest.”

Intriguingly enough, while church liberals had pushed through a term-limit for pastors, when their terms came up for transfer, many used connections with the chancery to allow them to stay—while authenticist pastors have had to follow the rules liberals had set down. Fr. Kenneally, dramatically innovative in liturgy and theology, frequently wandering off the reservation to make inflammatory statements on public policies, had served twenty-two years as pastor. When his denunciation of the Cardinal gained the media spotlight, some noticed how long he had been at St. Gertrude’s, so he retired. But Fr. Kenneally retired to a serenade of liberal accolades from the secular media. The priest was noted for strident support of liberal political causes. Ten years ago he called publicly veteran pro-life lawmaker Cong. Henry Hyde “a meathead” for which the priest disdained to apologize.


In blunt terms, the study says somebody in the bureaucracy almost criminally delayed on the McCormack case before telling the Cardinal. Fr. McCormack had silent but powerful sponsors throughout his career as a seminarian and priest, people who have not been uncovered as of now. The audit discovered there were one incident involving a minor and two separate incidents involving adult males and then seminarian McCormack during 1988 and 1991 during his time at Niles seminary. These red flags were enough to have removed anyone else but McCormack. They came to the attention of seminary officials in 1992, four years before the appointment of Cardinal George as archbishop of Chicago—but McCormack not only stayed on but was regarded highly. A search for the records has come to fruition because they have mysteriously vanished.

The missing records were seen by persons interviewed by Defenbaugh but no one can explain why they are lost. Many of those who presided over the record-keeping and who delayed telling Cardinal George are still in charge at key points in the bureaucracy.

Another finding of the report targets a spectacular deficiency, the labeling of a complaint against one cleric as “anonymous.” That gives doubt on the complaint’s authenticity—but “anonymous” was one who was willing to leave his telephone number but who doesn’t want to publicize his name. A complainant who is willing to document a case is certainly not anonymous; and even so, failure to act on anonymous complaints is in violation of the archdiocese’s own policies.

Probably the most egregious either willful negligence or abject incompetence about Fr. McCormack comes with the priest’s promotion to Dean of a deanery, or lead-pastor of a group of churches. It was signed by Cardinal George to be effective Sept. 1, 2005. This was two days after Fr. McCormack was arrested. This appears to have been processed with the knowledge that it would be extremely embarrassing to the Cardinal even though when he signed the appointment George had no knowledge of McCormack’s sexual involvements. The report states that “the office for the Vicars for Priests had in [its] possession derogatory information about Fr. McCormack which [it] delayed reporting to the Vicar General. Then, the Vicar General was notified of the arrest but, incredibly, allowed the investigation to proceed “without requiring further investigation into the allegation or withdrawing the appointment letter until resolution of the allegation.” Chancery officials interviewed by The Wanderer doubt strongly that this was an oversight.

In addition, the study shows that allegations of clerical sexual abuse of minors can be found in various files throughout the archdiocese including those pertaining to personnel that are in the office of the Chancellor, layman Jimmy (his formal name) Lago. Defenbaugh says there was no thorough review of them for follow-through. Why not? Lago has now been given supreme authority to act in matters of clerical abuse and has been pictured by the secular media as rushing to the Cardinal’s aid with fresh ideas to rescue the Cardinal who, in the media’s view, seemed to have not much of a clue. The view of the prelate as paralyzed with indecision is at great odds with general views of his powerful intellect and swiftly decisive inclinations.

Lago, a Bernardin favorite, was already Chancellor of the archdiocese and in his own words “number two” when church employees violated the Illinois Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act. The Defenbaugh study says Fr. McCormack’s alleged transgressions on September 5 with a minor wasn’t reported to the diocesan’s office of professional responsibility until January, 2006 after his second arrest. Under the law, the allegation should have been reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook county state’s attorney as required by state law and diocesan policy. The state is pursuing reasons for this deficiency. In an interview with The Wanderer, it is clear questions are being asked at senior levels in Springfield since DCFS has major responsibility for the safety of children.

“Dominion and leadership structure of an archdiocese is well-defined and controlled,” the report states. “Logic alone should dictate that the Cardinal be immediately advised of any situation or incident which could negatively impact the archdiocese of Chicago or the Cardinal.”

Favoritism in behalf of accused priests rather than concern for the children they may have abused has been endemic in the Bernardin-influenced church bureaucracy. Consider this: Action against a Fr. Joseph Bennett, another priest alleged to have participated in improper conduct, was stalled almost two years after the original allegation was made—from December, 2003 to November, 2005—because “Fr. Bennett did not have a canonical advocate assigned.” Meaning that Bennett continued to have association with minors all the while. But Fr. Bennett could have been removed from his pastoral duties pending assignment of the canonical counsel. Why he wasn’t shows how important it is to have some favorite sponsors “downtown,” the short-hand name for the bureaucracy.

Controversy continues to swirl over Lago, the lay chancellor. A career church bureaucrat in Chicago, his interest in religious affairs stemmed from his early involvement in the marches and protests of left-winger Cesar Chavez. Under Cardinal Bernardin in the 1990s, Lago was made chief lobbyist—not just for the Church in Chicago but for all the dioceses in Illinois. He reported to all the bishops in his capacity as executive director of the Illinois Conference of Catholic Bishops in the 1990s. He came to Springfield , the state capitol, ostensibly to advocate on a large number of issues important to the Church. For Lago, this meant one thing: financial aid rather than the social issues.

He was welcomed by Protestant evangelical advocates who were then fighting passage of a gay rights bill in the legislature. One of the major leaders of the effort is a minister, Rev. Robert D. Vanden Bosch, executive director of Concerned Christian Americans who has spent much of his life advocating pro-life and traditional family value legislation in the General Assembly. Known widely as “Reverend Bob,” Vanden Bosch, is one of the most highly regarded spokesmen for these issues in Springfield. He, Ralph Rivera of Illinois Citizens for Life, another evangelical, are given great credit for effective work on pro-life and opposition to same-sex marriage.

Rev. Vanden Bosch told The Wanderer that he was initially encouraged that the Catholic bishops had sent a lobbyist to Springfield, hopefully to work with the group Vanden Bosch had organized representing various churches, including black churches, around the state.

“I asked him,” Rev. Vanden Bosch said last week, “if he was in Springfield to help us fight the gay rights bill.”

Lago’s reaction?

“He just laughed at me,” said the minister. They determined that Lago’s interest in Springfield was solely financial, looking to education subsides.

Even after all these years, Reverend Bob says he still feels wounded at Lago’s sneering response. The gay rights bill the evangelicals fought eventually passed, over the objections of a Catholic lobbyist, Robert Gilligan, who was named by Cardinal George to replace Lago and who is regarded as extremely effective. In that fight, Cardinal George was an eloquent opponent. But in the crucial years, Lago never weighed in to effectively oppose the measure and who was rewarded with steady promotions.

Now Chancellor of the Chicago Catholic archdiocese, one of the very few laymen in the American church with that role, rated as having attained the most influential role a layman can hold in the Church, Lago and his office was criticized inferentially along with others in the handling of the pedophilia cases by the Defenbaugh study. But to the secular media which thrill to Lago’s old Cesar Chevez days, only Cardinal George, not Lago, is under the gun.

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