In the Vineyard   ::    November 19, 2008   ::    Volume 7, Issue 21

The Audacity of Hope or a Fool’s Errand:

The Criminal Prosecution of Cardinal Francis George and/or the Archdiocese of Chicago

How is it that a cardinal archbishop of Chicago can get away with acknowledging,

  • that he never reported allegations of sexual abuse of minors, something required by Illinois law;
  • that he rejected the recommendations of his own Review Board in 2005 to remove a priest from ministry, and that more children were abused as a result;
  • that he knew of five allegations against another priest since 2002 and did not remove him from service until 2006;
  • that he secretly waged a six-year effort through 2002 for the early release from prison of a convicted child molester;
  • that he welcomed an admitted felon to live at his mansion in 2003, indicated when the matter was disclosed publicly that the abuser would not work in Chicago again,
  • but in violation of his word the molester attended meetings on seven occasions in 2007-8 in an archdiocesan building adjacent to a Chicago elementary  school?

Behavior may have consequences for Catholics in the pews, but apparently the only outcome for Cardinal Francis George for enabling sexual abuse is the honor of being elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last year. Such is the quagmire of episcopal arrogance and neglect in these times.

Documents make clear that George countenanced an atmosphere of surreal, appalling negligence, where protecting children was simply not an urgent priority. To know what George and his aides really believed, look not at what they said, but at what they did: hairsplitting rationalizations for failure to follow through by asking basic questions about priests’ records, turning “don’t ask, don’t tell” into an art form; advising a perpetrator how to mislead survivors and their attorneys, crafting hyper-distinctions about abuse in seminary versus post ordination, and so forth. Reading George’s testimony is painful, but highly instructive about a cardinal’s mindset.

Following up on the request for VOTF members to write the Cook County State Attorney’s office about the criminal prosecution of George, I sent a letter noting George’s admission in deposition of his failure to report :

Q.        “Cardinal, in your 48 years as a priest, have you ever personally or at your direction made a report of suspected sexual abuse of a minor to civil authorities?

A.        “No” 1

I also noted criminal violations of failure to report in the independent Defenbaugh audit George authorized:

  •  “This (1999) allegation was not reported by Archdiocesan personnel…to local law enforcement as required by law.”
  •  “Not one of these allegations or suspicious activities (October1999-December 2005) was brought to the attention of … the State’s Attorney” 2
  • Five additional references to failure to report under the law are seen throughout the audit.

Defenbaugh found that numerous archdiocesan personnel did not follow their own policy and procedures e.g., delays in telling George about allegations, and administrative checklists left unused for years.

My letter referred to the cases of Rev. Joseph Bennett and Rev. Daniel McCormack alluded to above, as well as the prosecution of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati for failure to report, and the state attorney general investigation of the Diocese of Manchester, NH for child endangerment. There is precedent for legal remedy.

Were the allegations brought to the Archdiocese against Bennett over four years  from 2002 forward reported by George or the Archdiocese to the authorities? George had ignored a Review Board recommendation to remove Bennett in both October and November 2005.  Or because the abuse occurred more than three years before (the statute of limitations), could George claim there was no need to report “immediately” when he learned of the allegations earlier this decade?

The reply to my letter from the communications director at the Attorney’s office was a cryptic non-answer that mentioned only McCormack’s case. Here is the entire text:

“Father Daniel McCormick [sic] was charged with molesting  five young children following an extensive joint investigation between our office and the Chicago Police Department.  He was subsequently convicted and sentenced last year to five years in prison.  As part of that investigation, we did not uncover evidence to support charges against others.

Should additional information be forthcoming, we would follow that evidence wherever it would lead us. To address questions about why we did not charge particular individuals would be inappropriate and prohibited by the Illinois Supreme Court rules that govern how we deal with public information. “

We seek answers that assure investigations were completed about everyone involved in all cases; that certain issues were explored thoroughly, not why charges were never brought. One does not have evidence to be sanguine in this regard. Or have bishops just kept secrets so well that they escape accountability under the law?

The Defenbaugh audit recommended that violations of the reporting law be presented to the State’s Attorney for prosecutive opinion, and noted the three year statute of limitations.  There is reference to discussion on the matter with the State’s Attorney on 7/5/06, confirmed by a letter, though I could not locate it. 

This text in the Illinois Compiled Statutes is the only section on a three-year statute of limitations I could find:

“(i) Except as otherwise provided in subdivision (j), a prosecution for criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, or aggravated criminal sexual abuse may be commenced within 10 years of the commission of the offense if the victim reported the offense to law enforcement authorities within 3 years after the commission of the offense.” 3

Nothing in this subdivision (i) shall be construed to shorten a period within which a prosecution must be commenced under any other provision of this Section.

It gets to the point of needing an attorney to decipher the legalese and formats on state websites. Volunteers accepted.

However, there is an intriguing possibility that may bring hope. The very next paragraph in the statute reads: 

“ (j) When the victim is under 18 years of age at the time of the offense, a prosecution for criminal sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual assault, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, or aggravated criminal sexual abuse or a prosecution for failure of a person who is required to report an alleged or suspected commission of any of these offenses under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act may be commenced within 20 years after the child victim attains 18 years of age. “ 4 

Victims of Daniel McCormack are a long way from 38 years old, though Bennett’s victims appear to be over that age. There is a comprehensive, invaluable link to George’s deposition with documents, photos, and explanatory notes at You may need to go to their home page first in order to access it at 5

Whereas  a criminal prosecution of the perpetrator in paragraph (i) specifies action within three years of the assault itself, a criminal prosecution in paragraph (j) includes the one failing to report as liable to action, and makes no mention of a three-year limit --- if that is a correct interpretation.

It is necessary to read the original documents and sort out George’s tortured answers to discern the victims’ histories, and what George and other personnel knew when. Given the many statements by Defenbaugh and George’s admission about not reporting allegations, maybe there are cases still to be presented to prosecutors. It takes doing the grunt work yourself, and getting the media to focus. All earlier approaches to them were fruitless. Essentially, they do not have time for the painstaking research.

A Notre Dame law professor says  that prosecutors are not immune from public pressure, so maybe this is worth the effort, instead of a fool’s errand. Bear in mind that the Archdiocese of Chicago is organized as a corporation sole, meaning for all legal intents and purposes, George is the Archdiocese. That means George should still be in the docket if the Archdiocese is charged instead of an individual, and justifiably so.

In 2003, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk plead no contest to the Archdiocese’s failure to report, and paid a $10,000 fine.  He admitted facts that constituted guilt, according to the judge, and Pilarczyk agreed.  Same issues, same modus operandi as in Chicago (and every diocese).

May justice roll down like the mighty waters again. And the salutary effect of the head of the USCCB in the same position as Pilarczyk is worth pondering.

pdf p. 39, hard copy p. 38, lines 17-21

p. 24 (also p. 1, 21, 22, 38, 30)

720 ILCS 5/3-6) (from Ch. 38, par. 3-6)

[4] Ibid. (extended from 10 to 20 years in 2003 as part of Public Act 93-356)


Page One

News from Affiliates

Site Seeing

Survivor Support

Letters to the Editor

VOTF relies solely on the contributions of people like you to support its work.





For an overview of press coverage of VOTF, click here.

©Voice of the Faithful 2008. All Rights Reserved