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Principal who criticized archdiocese expects to lose post

By F.N. D'Alessio
Associated Press Writer
June 6, 2007

CHICAGO -- A Roman Catholic school principal who has criticized Archdiocese of Chicago officials for their handling of sexual abuse allegations against the school's former parish priest said Wednesday she expects to lose her post.

"It breaks my heart, but I just don't see any way out of it," Barbara Westrick, principal of Our Lady of the Westside School, said in a telephone interview.

Westrick sent a letter May 29 to parents of the 200 preschool through eighth-grade students at the school's two campuses, telling them that officials had not yet renewed her contract as principal, a post she has held for four years.

In her letter, Westrick said archdiocesan policy calls for principals' contracts to be renewed by March 1, but said the Rev. Larry Dowling told her in February that he was too unfamiliar with St. Agatha's Church and the parish's school to meet that deadline. She said that on April 17, Dowling told her he would delay his decision until after students left for summer vacation.

"Because of these delays, my future at this school is uncertain," Westrick wrote to parents.

The archdiocese released a brief statement Wednesday saying, in part: "Ms. Westrick has chosen to publicize issues related to her employment as principal of Our Lady of the Westside School. However, the Archdiocese of Chicago will not discuss individual personnel matters."

Westrick, who said she has taught at Catholic schools in Illinois and Michigan for 37 years, complained publicly in December that the archdiocese appeared to be using her as a scapegoat in the case of Dowling's predecessor -- the Rev. Daniel McCormack, who taught algebra and coached boys' basketball at the school.

McCormack faces five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in the alleged fondling of five boys at the school and church. McCormack has pleaded not guilty to all the charges; his next court date is set for July 2.

Some of the accusations date back to 2001, but McCormack was not charged or removed as pastor until after Westrick informed police, the archdiocese and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services of allegations one boy made to her in January 2006.

Westrick complained in December that a letter placed in her personnel file chastised her for her handling of an earlier incident regarding abuse allegations against McCormack.

In September 2005, a woman told Westrick that McCormack had sexually abused her son several years earlier. Westrick said the woman told her she had reported the allegation to the archdiocese and Chicago police, who arrested McCormack but then released him, saying there was not enough evidence to pursue the case.

Westrick said she assumed she would hear from the archdiocese or police, but never did. She said when she questioned McCormack about the woman's claims, he said the archdiocese told him to have a parent sit in on one his classes, but otherwise brushed her off.

"I will not be the archdiocese's scapegoat or allow my reputation to be destroyed in order to deflect the truth about the archdiocese's atrocious handing of Father Daniel McCormack," Westrick said in December.

Westrick's May 29 letter to parents was publicly released Wednesday by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

"I think the principal showed courage, and that the archdiocese should praise her instead of punishing her," said SNAP president Barbara Blaine. "I hope every family with children at the school gets involved on her behalf."

Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
www.snapnetwork.org

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