For immediate release: Monday, December 9, 2013
Statement by Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312 399 4747, SNAPblaine@gmail.com)
Temporarily ousting a credibly accused predator priest is the bare minimum. Cardinal Francis George must do more about Fr. Michael W. O’Connell who just left his post at St. Alphonsus Catholic parish (1429 W. Wellington Ave.) in Lakeview.
First, George should disclose where Fr. O’Connell is now. Parents and neighbors should be warned about him.
Second, George should insist that Fr. O’Connell move into and stay at a remote, secure, independently run treatment center so that he gets help and so that kids are protected.
Third, George should personally visit every parish where Fr. O’Connell worked – even briefly – begging victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to contact law enforcement.
Fourth, George should turn over to police every bit of information he has about Fr. O’Connell (without waiting to be subpoenaed).
Fifth, George should suspend Fr. O’Connell. Yesterday, his parishioners were told that he “voluntarily stepped away from the day-to-day administration of the parish.” (That almost sounds like he’s on sabbatical.)
There’s an important difference between stepping down and being suspended. Being suspended is more serious. It will better protect kids. (More parents are apt to take these allegations seriously and keep their children away from a suspended priest than from a priest who has voluntarily stepped aside. And it’s what the US national bishops’ abuse policy calls for. Cardinal George needs to obey church rules.
Sixth, when it comes to child sex crimes, George should stop splitting hairs and ignoring the roughly 33% of US priests who belong to religious orders. George can’t have his cake and eat it too. He can’t welcome these clerics into his archdiocese, give them access to archdiocesan kids, but then act powerless when they abuse archdiocesan kids.
The latest example is Fr. Ronan C. Liles (a.k.a. Charles R. or Charles B. Liles) who was publicly accused of child sex crimes last week in Minneapolis. Catholic officials there disclosed for the first time that Fr. Liles had also worked in Chicago in 1978.
In 1997, Liles was accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing of two brothers at a Boy Scout camp when they were 11 and 12 years old (from 1969 to 1975). That case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Often, Fr. Liles abused kids “tag team” style with one of his colleagues, Brother Edmund Frost.
Dozens of religious order clerics like Fr. Liles work now and have worked - and sometimes molested - in Chicago. But their crimes and years spent here are being kept hidden by archdiocesan officials. (Roughly 1/3 of US priests belong to such orders, including Jesuits, Marianists, and Franciscans.)
Other examples include: Fr. Victor Phelan and Sister Agnes Santomassimo, who we “outed” recently in Chicago.
We strongly suspect that only a handful of Chicago Catholics or citizens have heard of these clerics. Yet collectively, they have no doubt been around thousands and thousands of kids in Cardinal George’s parishes. But Cardinal George ignores their victims and hides their crimes, just because another Catholic individual or entity signed their pay checks. That’s just wrong.
George needs to treat religious order child molesters like he does archdiocesan child molesters. With both kinds of predator priests, George needs to go beyond the bare minimum when they are accused.
Finally, we again urge anyone who was hurt by either cleric to call police, not church officials. We are grateful to the brave young man who reported his suffering to church officials. Because of his courage, children are safer. And they’ll be safer still if Cardinal George shows similar courage and takes more steps to keep Fr. O’Connell away from kids and find others who saw, suspected or suffered his crimes.