I-Team: Predator priests paid to pray for unsuspecting families

May 16, 2013 9:18:27 PM PDT
Roman Catholic priests who are sex abusers are being paid to handle prayer requests from unsuspecting families.For centuries, the Catholic faithful have arranged masses for sick relatives, deceased loved ones or in the memory of friends. They're called "intentions" and usually Catholics offer a small donation. The I-Team has discovered some intentions are being farmed out to priests who are sex offenders; men banned from regular ministry- now paid to pray- and some of the faithful are not informed. The bells tolled on Father Donald O'Connor's career in 2002, when he was terminated as Pastor of Assumption Parish here in Coal City.

These newly-obtained records from the Diocese of Joliet reveal church findings that O'Connor had sexually abused many boys in numerous parishes.

The priest was quoted once as saying "it's better than shacking up with a woman."

One of his victims committed suicide according to the diocese files.

But just one month after O'Connor was permanently removed from any public ministry, he was sent a letter from the diocese chancellor asking if he was "in need of mass stipends...just let us know the number you would need...and a check will be issued every three months."

"Why on earth are church officials coddling and being concerned about giving enough money to sexual predators instead of getting those sexual predators indicted and jailed? That would be the appropriate response," said Barbara Blaine, of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

The pay to pray "benefits" continue to this day- allowed by "canon law" according to this statement tonight from the Joliet Diocese.

"Like all priests, they [predator priests] may offer a mass for a specific person or cause, and they may receive the small stipend if one is offered, usually $10."

It can add up.

The payments from something called a "restricted funds account" to Father Don O'connor show the priest/abuser handled hundreds of families' mass intentions and was paid thousands of dollars before he died- despite being officially "removed from ministry."

There is no evidence in these diocesan records that any parishioners were ever notified.

"Church officials of Joliet could and should be doing so much more. They are still doing the bare minimum," said Blaine.

One Catholic organization is very open about supporting priests who have been blocked from ministry for sexual misconduct-or even convicted and done prison time.

"We'll do whatever the priest needs. We facilitate care for priests, so we still have priests in this country who have been accused of sexual abuse and whether they are guilty of the abuse or the sin or they're not, we will help them in whatever ways they need help," said Joe Maher, president of Opus Bono Sacerdotii.

That is the sole mission of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, located in a rural area near Detroit, on this out-of-the way road and in an unmarked building- a location they asked us not to identify.

The 11-year-old organization, staffed by several lay Catholic men operates on private contributions. They say donors know that priest sex abusers may carry out their mass intentions- sometimes at Opus' in-house chapel.

"If you are an accused priest you're not going to find a job too many places. I mean, what do you put on your resume? So they're offering Mass and praying for people who really need prayers. And it's a very good thing for them, and it's good for the church," said Maher.

"They don't pose any less risk to children and when they do violate a child it doesn't hurt any less because [it was] a sexual predator who either is or did wear a Roman collar," said Blaine.

Opus Bono is not an official arm of the church, but has helped 8,000 priests.

"Thousands of Catholic priests, many bishops and the Holy See have called on Opus Bono to care for priests experiencing difficulties," said the voiceover in an Opus Bono video soliciting donations.

Supporters include Chicago Cardinal Francis George, quoted on their website.

"Cardinal George has been wonderful, he really has. Obviously coming from a religious order background, he understands you know that there are priests that are errant- priests that do things wrong but you don't just throw them out of society to commit other errors," said Maher.

Cardinal George says the Chicago Archdiocese does not assign mass intentions to priests who have committed sexual misconduct and are separated from public ministry.

Statement from Joliet Diocese on Pay to Pray

Diocese of Joliet
http://www.dioceseofjoliet.org/

Opus Bono Sacerdotii
"Work for the Good of the Priesthood"
http://www.opusbono.org/

Archdiocese of Chicago
http://www.archchicago.org/

The Vatican
http://www.vatican.va/

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