Handling of priest sex abuse scandal a part of George’s legacy

SHARE Handling of priest sex abuse scandal a part of George’s legacy

Now-defrocked Catholic priest Daniel McCormack leaving a Chicago court in 2006. | AP file photo

Seven years ago, Cardinal Francis George testified about “the one egregious time” he said the Archdiocese of Chicago’s efforts to protect children under his leadership “failed to our great shame.”

He was talking about former priest Daniel McCormack.

McCormack sexually abused children on George’s watch while assigned to St. Agatha Parish on Chicago’s West Side. Arrested in January 2006, McCormack wasn’t removed from the priesthood until November 2007. He pleaded guilty that year.

“I had thought he was being supervised,” George said in a 2008 deposition. “And it wasn’t adequate.”

The cardinal’s handling of sex abuse allegations against McCormack and other priests in the archdiocese mar his legacy in the eyes of some.

“We would never wish anyone the kind of pain that we understand that he had to endure with his cancer,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Still, she said the cardinal, who died Friday after years of battling cancer, was “reckless” when it came to dealing with abusive priests.

“He left children at risk,” Blaine said, “even after he promised he wouldn’t do that.”

Rev. James Halstead, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University, said George’s failings were “entirely human.” Had he been in the cardinal’s shoes, Halstead said he probably would have been “gritting my teeth,” feeling betrayed by the abusers and heartbroken for the abused. He likened the situation George faced to dealing with a family member who is alcoholic, mentally ill or sexually abusive.

“I’m not sure I could have done any better,” Halstead said.

In his 2008 deposition, George also spoke about sexual abuse allegations against other priests, including the Rev. Joseph Bennett and the Rev. Norbert Maday.

Bennett wasn’t charged with any crime, but George removed him from public ministry in February 2006 over molestation accusations involving two girls at St. John de la Salle in the late 1960s. Before being removed from the ministry, Bennett was being watched by a monitor, the Rev. Leonard Dubi.

An archdiocesan review board advised George against assigning Dubi to that task — Dubi and Bennett had vacationed together in Mexico — but George did not replace him with a new monitor.

George also resisted the review board’s recommendation to remove Bennett from the ministry until February 2006, less than two weeks after McCormack was arrested for child sex abuse.

Maday was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1994 for molesting two teenage boys in separate 1986 parish outings to Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Letters showed the archdiocese worked for years to free Maday, who ended up serving his full sentence.

As the number of allegations against Maday grew, though, George wrote to the Wisconsin Parole Commission in 2007 withdrawing an earlier offer to provide monitoring and a place for Maday if he were released.

Tony Jannotta, a deacon at St. Thomas Becket Parish in Mount Prospect who has been affiliated with SNAP, said he confronted George about the 2008 deposition, telling him he was “terribly disappointed” and that someone should resign, perhaps George himself.

“I still feel his behavior was not what it should have been for someone of his stature or his intellect,” Jannotta said.

For people inside the church, Halstead said more time is being spent on paperwork and workshops on mandatory reporting. The “good news of salvation” hasn’t changed, he said, but the tone with which it’s preached is less joyous. People now spend less time being “naturally human,” he said, and more time looking over their shoulders.

“My assumption,” Halstead said, “is I’m not trusted by parents any more.”

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