A Chicago Catholic priest, who had been accused of sexually abusing a minor nearly 20 years ago, is being reinstated to active ministry after a Cook County Sheriff’s office investigation found the allegation was unfounded, the Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday.
Father Michael W. O’Connell will resume his role on Thursday as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish in Chicago, the archdiocese said in a statement.
At the request of Cardinal Francis George, O’Connell agreed to step aside from his parish on Dec. 4, 2013 while church officials investigated after an allegation was presented to officials of the Archdiocese of Chicago alleging O’Connell engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor while assigned to Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park.
The single allegation was received by the archdiocesan’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review and reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State’s Attorney, the archdiocese said. The archdiocese also cooperated with the Cook County sheriff, who conducted an independent investigation, the archdiocese said.
In compliance with the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the archdiocese said it conducted its own investigation. The Archdiocesan Independent Review Board “did not find reason to suspect that sexual abuse of a minor had occurred” and recommended that O’Connell be returned to active ministry, the archdiocese said, adding George accepted the board’s recommendation.
O’Connell could not be reached for comment. The offices of Cook County sheriff, Cook County state’s attorney and DCFS did not immediately return calls for comment.
O’Connell served as pastor of Our Lady of the Woods from 1997 to 2012. Since July 2012, he has served as pastor of St. Aphonsus.