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Posted: Saturday, 09 June 2007 6:59PM
Activists: Catholic School Principal Fired Over Criticism Of Sex Abuse Cases
Bob Roberts & Jennifer O’Neill Reporting
Anti-abuse activists claim that the principal of West Side Catholic school was fired because she criticized the Archdiocese of Chicago’s handling of sexual abuse allegations at her school. The Archdiocese denies the accusation and says overall performance was the reason.
The Survivors Nework for Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and a small group of parents contended Friday that Barbara Westrick was singled out when she failed to heed warnings about repercussions in the wake of the arrest of Father Daniel McCormack.
Westrick learned of her dismissal in a meeting Thursday with St. Agatha’s Roman Catholic Church pastor Fr. Larry Dowling.
Westrick had been doing a “splendid” job, said Rufus Sims, whose four children are enrolled at Our Lady of the Westside Schools.
“You couldn’t ask for a better principal than Ms. Westrick,” Sims said Friday. “This was nothing to do with her performance, this was her speaking out. She didn’t want to be used as a scapegoat for (the archdiocese’s) shortcomings.”
Archdiocesan spokesperson Colleen Dolan conceded that test scores improved under Westrick. Nonetheless, she said, “That is only one element that is used to evaluate a principal. There were many other elements, and consultations with staff and faculty and parents, and (Fr. Dowling’s) own observations and his own interaction with her is what he made the decision on.”
Westrick had written parents last week saying she feared that her contract would not be renewed.
“I spoke up for children and would do it all over again,” Westrick said.
Westrick said she believed that Francis Cardinal George was “angry” with her because she “blew the whistle” on Fr. McCormack.
Dolan said that Fr. Dowling made the decision, “not Cardinal George. Fr. Dowling did it.”
Instead, Dolan said, a report ordered by the Archdiocese into the McCormack affair last year determined that Westrick was just one of a number of administrators, teachers and archdiocesan staff who failed to abide by the policies set up by the Archdiocese to deal with such accusations.
The report, issued in March 2006 by the Texas private security firm of Defenbaugh & Associates, Inc., which was retained by the Archdiocese, stated that “interview(s)…which included administrators, teachers, sisters and priests assigned to Our Lady of the Westside schools, found none were well versed in Archdiocesan policies and procedures regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors, and in some cases, even less familiar with the (State of Illinois) Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act.”
McCormack faces five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse in the alleged fondling of five boys at the school and church. The former algebra teacher and boys’ basketball coach has pleaded not guilty to all charges and his next court date is set for July 2.
SNAP President and founder Barbara Blaine said Friday it was hard to believe that a principal with as much experience as Westrick was doing a poor job.
“This is a woman who has 37 years of experience. All the scores for the children have improved over her tenure,” Blaine said. “I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that it’s performance-based.”
Sims said his children, who are in grades six through eight, liked Westrick as their principal for the last four years.
“They loved Ms. Westrick because she was a very fair woman,” Sims said. “She treated those kids as if they were her own kids.”
Some of the accusations against McCormack date to 2001, but Blaine said he was not charged or removed as pastor until after Westrick told police, the archdiocese and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) about allegations one boy made to her in January 2006.
In September 2005, a woman told Westrick that McCormack had sexually abused her son several years earlier. The woman told Westrick she had reported the allegation to the archdiocese and Chicago police.
Westrick said she assumed she would hear from the archdiocese or police, but never did. When she questioned McCormack about the woman’s claims, he said the archdiocese told him to have a parent sit in on one of 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.
The Defenbaugh report said Archdiocesan policies clearly state that both DCFS and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office are to be notified immediately of any such accusations, in addition to the archdiocese.
Dolan said that Westrick’s attorney accompanied her to the meeting, and said she did not know if there would be a position for her at any other Catholic school in the archdiocese, which includes Cook and Lake Counties in Illinois. Westrick and her attorney will review the termination letter and determine whether any legal action is warranted.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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