IL- No charges for accused priest
For immediate release: Friday, Dec. 19 2014
No child sex charges are going to be filed against Fr. Michael W. O’Connell, who is still on the job today in a parish despite allegations by two men that he sexually abused them as children. We’re disappointed in this decision and urge Archbishop Blase Cupich to honor his pledges to keep kids safe by suspending O’Connell.
We’re deeply saddened that Cupich, who talks such a good game about abuse, is recklessly keeping O’Connell around vulnerable families. We were equally saddened – but less surprised - that then-Cardinal Francis George did the same – for months - despite the two accusers and a pending criminal investigation into the allegations.
In a disturbing violation of church abuse policy, both George and Cupich let O’Connell claim to “self-monitor” by voluntarily keeping himself away from children in his parish.
Two weeks ago, we asked Cupich to:
1) immediately suspend O’Connell from his post at St. Alphonsus parish,
2) discipline all archdiocesan staff who have let him stay in the parish,
3) attend a “town hall meeting” we are holding about the troubling situation, and
4) personally visit St. Alphonsus and beg anyone who may have information that might prove or disprove crimes or misdeeds by Fr. O’Connell to call police.
Today, for the safety of children, we renew those requests.
This week, on Tuesday, we were told by the Executive Director of Cook County Department of Corrections, Cara Smith, that the investigation by the sheriff’s police department into the allegations against Fr. O’Connell is closed unless new information is brought forward. We understand that most child predators, especially clergy child predators, are tough to prosecute, in part because they are very shrewd, cunning, well-educated and well-spoken. We also understand that the bar for criminal prosecution is quite high.
But this decision doesn’t mean that Fr. O’Connell is innocent. Nor does it mean that Cupich should continue to gamble with the safety of children.
Here’s more background information about this troubling situation:
Fr. O’Connell was temporarily suspended in December 2013 after the archdiocese received an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a boy at Our Lady of the Woods in Orland Park years earlier. In April of this year, Cardinal George reinstated Fr. O’Connell even though the Cook County Sheriff’s Department had not closed the criminal case.
Weeks later, new allegations surfaced involving alleged abuse of different boy in the 1990s and police began investigating. Throughout this, however, archdiocesan officials kept Fr. O’Connell on the job.
This is precisely the kind of reckless behavior that Catholic officials have engaged in for decades, with disastrous results. It’s precisely the kind of irresponsible decision-making that Catholic officials have pledged for years would no longer happen.
Yet now, in 2014, a dozen years after US bishops finally and formally adopted allegedly binding “one strike” abuse policies, a twice-accused priest remains on the job in your archdiocese. Neither that national policy – nor its local Chicago equivalent – have a provision letting a twice-accused priest stay in ministry during a criminal investigation and “self-police” by allegedly staying away from children.
Even more than most of your colleagues, Cupich repeatedly talks of “transparency” in clergy sex cases. So we have urged him to show, in a tangible way, his professed commitment to transparency by joining us in a public setting to discuss this alarming case. We’re holding a “town hall meeting” on Jan. 22 at 6:30 p.m. at the Belmont Lincoln Public Library at 1659 W Melrose Street about the Fr. O’Connell case and other concerns about handling sex abuse allegations. We have invited Cupich - and parishioners from St. Alphonsus and elsewhere – to it. We’ve gotten no reply from Cupich.
Parents, parishioners and the public need and deserve to hear the full truth about Fr. O’Connell and the inexplicable archdiocesan decision-making process that enables him to have access to trusting families and innocent children even now.
Initially, we invited Cupich to a town hall meeting earlier this month. Since we heard nothing from Cupich or his staff – one way or the other – we postponed that meeting. We have re-scheduled it for Thursday, Jan.22. We really hope he’ll come. If that date does not work for him, we’ve told him we’ll re-schedule again. But if we hear nothing from Cupich, we’ll hold it on Jan. 22 and hope to educate parishioners, parents and the public about the troubling Fr. O’Connell situation without him.
Now more than ever, it’s crucial that anyone who may have seen, suspected or suffered crimes or misdeeds by O’Connell step forward. If you don’t, he’ll very likely remain around children and perhaps assault them. It’s just that simple.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We were founded in 1988 and have more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)