Mishandling of McCormack Case Shakes Faith

From the Chicago Sun Times, 7.7.2007.

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Mishandling of McCormack case shakes faith

July 7, 2007

The Archdiocese of Chicago still doesn’t get it.

That’s the only conclusion I can come to when I read the comment by archdiocese spokeswoman Colleen Dolan after the sentencing of the Rev. Daniel McCormack.

Dolan was asked by the Sun-Times earlier in the week about McCormack’s sentence of five years for five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. Dolan was quoted as saying, ‘‘He has not been accused of rape. Never. There’s a big difference between abuse and assault, which is a more egregious crime.’’

Now the archdiocese has to know it has a lot of healing to do after its poor handling of the McCormack sex abuse cases. It couldn’t be clueless to the fact that it wasn’t just the faith of those from St. Agatha and Our Lady of Westside School that was rocked, and in some cases, shattered beyond repair, when the mishandling of McCormack by the archdiocese came to light.

So could they truly be unaware that what Chicago Catholics — and non-Catholics, for that matter — wanted to hear after the sentencing were words of contrition?

Would it have killed them to say something like, “We really messed up and hope all of Chicago knows we will work like mad to never let another child be harmed again?”

Instead, we get a lesson in the degrees of sexual criminality and kind of the attitude, hey, count your blessings, it could have been worse.

Well, I’ll tell you one thing that is the same for each of those victims, who ranged in age from 8 to 12. No matter what McCormack did physically to those children, he left their ability to trust in shambles. A doctor once explained to me that no matter how young a sex victim is, the body instinctively knows that something that shouldn’t be happening is occurring. How heartbreaking is that?

If the foot-dragging by the archdiocese resulted in these children questioning or abandoning their faith, would anyone be surprised? And what lesson did they take away when they realized their whistleblower, Westside Principal Barbara Westrick, is the only one who has lost her job in this case?

Ask abuse experts and they’ll tell you that the details of the McCormack case sure look like the sad pattern of a serial abuser. What makes it more worrisome is that the entire situation shows that it isn’t only the church that’s weak in its handling of pedophiles. The maximum sentence McCormack could have received was seven years. Yes, I know, any time in prison is not a good time, particularly for someone who has harmed children, but still, doesn’t that seem like not enough time?

McCormack’s sentence of five years, could, with good behavior, translate to as little as 2œ [sic] years. Many studies show the recidivism rate among child sex offenders, particularly when the victims are male, is high, which makes these short sentences all the more troubling.

And when he gets out, McCormack probably won’t be — well, technically — a priest. Cardinal Francis George has said he will ask that McCormack be removed from the priesthood. I don’t know that I take a lot of comfort from that. Sure, he’ll no longer be the archdiocese’s problem. Yet, at least while he was an archdiocesan priest and after the scandal, we know the archdiocese had to have been keeping tabs on McCormack. Who’ll be doing that in 2œ [sic] short years?

Let’s hope that during his incarceration McCormack is given counseling to change his behavior. Because children are like magnets to pedophiles. On the day the story on McCormack’s sentence ran in the Sun-Times, on the same page was an article on a convicted child sex offender caught talking to children as he worked an ice cream truck, an offense he had to know was against the rules of his probation.

Makes you wonder — and worry — where McCormack will turn up when his short stint in prison is over.

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