Asked in September about whether the Archdiocese of Chicago keeps track of religious order priests who have been accused of sexual abuse, Cardinal Blase Cupich’s spokeswoman Paula Waters said, “It is done on a regular basis.”
But even amid heightened scrutiny of predator priests from the semi-autonomous orders, the cardinal’s office learned only recently that three elderly Catholic clerics with long-ago allegations of sexual misconduct that were deemed credible have been living on the Society of the Divine Word order’s grounds near Northbrook for years, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
One of them, the Rev. Joe Fertal, had been the subject of a lawsuit church authorities in California settled after he was accused of molesting a teenage boy.
Fertal — now in his late 80s and described as “wheelchair-bound” — moved from an out-of-state care facility to the Divine Word grounds, called Techny and located on Waukegan Road north of Willow Road, in 2016 because his health was failing, and he needed more specialized care that’s available at the order’s “mother house,” according to the Rev. Quang Dinh, Divine Word’s Chicago province leader.
Another cleric who’d been accused of abuse has been at Divine Word for decades, Dinh says, and the third arrived around 2005, declining to name them.
The order’s province leader says all three men are in a supervised setting, are not allowed to leave the grounds except for things like doctor appointments and have not been allowed to perform public ministry for many years.
Waters says the archdiocese was “informed of their presence” in December during an audit Cupich ordered.
That was after the Sun-Times reported in September that the Rev. Richard McGrath, an Augustinian priest who’d been investigated by Will County authorities over allegations he had a picture of a naked boy on his cellphone and had sexually abused a student while president of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, had moved to the St. John Stone Friary.
That’s a monastery the Augustinian order runs in Hyde Park. It’s across an alley from a preschool and around the corner from a Catholic grade school.
The archdiocese said at the time that it was informed that McGrath had moved there but didn’t notify the preschool operator or its own St. Thomas the Apostle school. After the Sun-Times published that story online, Cupich apologized to the St. Thomas community, asked the Augustinians to move McGrath and ordered a “review of all religious communities in Chicago with regard to their members residing in our diocese.”
The Techny clerics “are living in a monitored setting more than a mile from the nearest school, and, in any case, are quite elderly,” Waters says.
Waters wouldn’t say why the archdiocese wasn’t aware of the men before December. Nor would she answer other questions, saying: “We thought it better that the reply come from the order as they have direct knowledge of the men in their infirmary.”
In an email sent in response to questions, Dinh says: “When a priest arrives at Techny, he cannot begin to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago until he receives the faculties (express written permission) of the cardinal archbishop of Chicago. This permission is requested as soon as or even before the priest arrives.
“When a brother or a priest who is elderly, infirm or unable to minister for another reason (i.e., restricted from ministry due to an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor) arrives, neither Canon Law nor the Charter for the Protection of Children approved by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops requires that the Archdiocese be officially notified.”
In October, a month after the Sun-Times reported on McGrath, Cupich’s office “asked religious communities of men to go beyond the requirements.” Divine Word did that in December, providing information to the archdiocese at that time on Fertal and the other two men.
Waters won’t say how many priests from religious orders who were the subject of sexual misconduct claims are known to the archdiocese.
Dinh says the accusations against the three Divine Word clerics involved conduct that happened out of state. Fertal lived in the Chicago area, including at Techny, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, records show.
The archdiocese maintains a public list of priests who have faced what are deemed to be credible allegations of sexual misconduct. But it includes only those with claims that have been “substantiated” through the archdiocese’s review process.
Waters previously said that the archdiocese’s policy “is to list all diocese clergy with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of minors” and that the cardinal “once again calls on all religious orders and dioceses to do the same, as they are the only ones who have this information and can guarantee that their lists are complete.”
Waters would not say when Cupich previously had called on religious orders — which typically have specialized ministries that span geographic boundaries — to make this information public.
Cupich is helping organize a Vatican summit this month aimed at improving accountability and transparency regarding how the Catholic church deals with abuse of minors by clergy, a scandal that’s been raging on and off since the 1980s.
His policy regarding religious orders is problematic because many religious orders have kept information regarding abuse allegations secret, current allegations as well as older ones, says Marc Pearlman, a Chicago lawyer who has represented people abused as children by Catholic priests.
“If you really care about kids, put out every frickin’ name of the order priests, diocesan priests . . . all of them,” Pearlman says. “What’s the downside if the goal is to protect children?”
In recent months, the Jesuit order — whose priests follow the tradition of St. Ignatius and are often educators — released decades of information about members with allegations of sexual abuse.
Cupich’s office previously was aware of some of those cases in the Chicago area but didn’t include those priests in the information it has made public, interviews and records show.
Dinh says the Divine Word order — which is based in Rome and focuses on missionary work worldwide — is discussing whether to release information on clergy against whom there have been sexual misconduct accusations.
Before being appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 to head the church in Cook and Lake counties, Cupich was bishop of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington. Cupich was told by the Jesuits there that they had members who faced abuse accusations living in a residence on the grounds of the Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane — in a building where coincidentally, Cupich, often attended meetings.
An investigation by Reveal and the Northwest News Network found that some of those priests — including one who’d been accused of molesting children in Alaska — weren’t always supervised even though they were supposed to be.
As bishop in Spokane, Cupich didn’t make public those priests’ names. Nor did he inform the bishop who succeeded him in Spokane, Thomas Daly, according to church officials.