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Priest accused of child rape, porn, now AWOL from his religious community

Rev. Richard McGrath

Rev. Richard J. McGrath, former president of Providence High School, in New Lenox, shown in 2006. Rev. McGrath is under investigation for sex abuse in Will County. | File photo

After the Rev. Richard McGrath was accused in late 2017 of having child pornography on the cell phone he used as president of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, he refused to turn it over to police or his religious superiors, thwarting a criminal investigation.

Another criminal probe was subsequently launched when a man who attended Providence in the 1990s accused McGrath of raping him back then – accusations contained in a lawsuit that was recently dismissed by a judge on a technicality but is likely to be re-filed.

The criminal investigation, now in the hands of Will County prosecutors, has not yielded any charges.

Through it all, the order of Catholic priests to which McGrath has belonged for decades, the Augustinians, stuck with him.

But it appears McGrath may not be sticking with them.

According to the Rev. Richie Mercado, secretary of the Augustinians’ Midwest province, McGrath “is unlawfully absent from the community.”

That “law” to which he’s referring is church law, otherwise known as “canon” law.

“Unlawful means that he left the Augustinian community without permission (Canon 665, no 2),” Mercado said via email. “The effect of this ‘absence without permission’ is that his faculties to function as a priest has been suspended.”

“More particularly to our Augustinian community, he could no longer represent the Augustinians in any way or form until the issue has been resolved. Canon Law states that ‘an appropriate penalty may be imposed if the member has persisted in ignoring the warning of the superior, or dismissal from the institute may result after an appropriate process.’”

“As of this time, he is still a priest but without any faculties to function as one.”

Augustinian officials would not answer questions about whether they know where McGrath is now living and, if so, whether he’s in a supervised setting, away from children.

As a religious order, the Augustinians — who say they are “guided today by the ideals and spirit of St. Augustine,” a bishop and philosopher who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries — largely govern themselves but also must get permission from local bishops if they want to live or serve in their jurisdictions, or dioceses.

Providence is in Will County, part of the Diocese of Joliet. After McGrath’s legal troubles started, the Augustinians removed McGrath from Providence and moved him to their friary in Hyde Park — within the Archdiocese of Chicago, the church’s arm for Cook and Lake counties, overseen by Cardinal Blase Cupich.

While the Augustinians alerted Cupich’s office to McGrath’s presence in that South Side neighborhood — where they said he was in a “supervised environment,” barred from public ministry — Cupich’s aides in turn did not initially alert a preschool across the alley from the friary or a Catholic grade school several doors down about McGrath being there, as the Chicago Sun-Times reported Sept. 21.

That’s the same day that Cupich, after his press aides were asked by the Sun-Times about the lack of notification to the schools, sent a letter to the parish and school communities of the Catholic grade school blaming the Augustinians for telling his office only about “allegations that McGrath had ‘inappropriate material’ on his mobile phone” and saying “nothing about an allegation of sexual abuse.”

“Had they fully informed us of his status, we would not have permitted him to live there,” Cupich wrote.

Former Providence Catholic H.S. student Bob Krankvich (from left) and attorneys Jeff Anderson (center) and Marc Pearlman

Attorney Jeff Anderson speaks at an April press conference, with fellow attorney Marc Pearlman at right, and former Providence Catholic High School student Robert Krankvich at left, who filed a lawsuit against the Augustinian Order alleging sexual abuse by Augustinian priest and former Providence president Richard McGrath. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

It’s unclear why Cupich’s people weren’t independently aware of McGrath’s troubles since Robert Krankvich, the man accusing McGrath of abusing him, held a well-publicized news conference in April, when he filed suit, spelling out what he says the priest did to him. Law enforcement officials also have publicly confirmed they’re investigating.

Either way, Cupich also wrote to the school, “We have asked the Augustinians to move Father McGrath from the friary immediately, and they have agreed to do so.”

Earlier this month, the Sun-Times inquired as to McGrath’s status and whereabouts and learned from the Augustinians about his unauthorized absence, and that the archdiocese “has been informed of his status.”

Cupich spokeswoman Paula Waters subsequently relayed that McGrath “has no faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago,” and Cupich’s office was informed on Sept. 28 “by the Augustinians that [McGrath] had left the friary and possibly the order.”

“They were no more specific than that,” Waters said. “Try the Augustinians for more information.”

McGrath couldn’t be reached for comment, but his attorney, Patrick Reardon, said, “Last time I spoke to him he felt he was a liability to the Augustinians,” so he moved away.

Reardon wouldn’t say where to, but said McGrath has been in touch with his Augustinian superiors within the past few weeks.

Reardon also said McGrath insists he’s done nothing wrong.