Archdiocese reaction to St. Alphonsus Lakeview priest allegation angers advocates

December 9, 2013 (CHICAGO)

The pastor of St. Alphonsus Catholic Church is being allowed to remove himself from that job after being accused of molesting a child at a previous parish nearly two decades ago. Father Michael O'Connell is voluntarily stepping aside.

And the unusual consideration from church officials that he be allowed a temporary hiatus is angering victims' rights advocates.

Outside Chicago Archdiocese headquarters, the president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests says that O'Connell's victim is now an adult. The alleged victim has told authorities that he was molested at Our Lady of the Woods parish in south suburban Orland Park.

"He's claiming that the priest abused him on more than one occasion," said Barbara Blaine, SNAP president. "That he was a student in the equivalent of Sunday school... that the priest called him out of class and that's when the abuse occurred."

In a statement on the archdiocese website, Cardinal Francis George says he asked Father O'Connell to step aside during the investigation and that O'Connell voluntarily agreed, but the cardinal states that it isn't a judgment of guilt.

"We believe Cardinal George must disclose the whereabouts of Father O'Connell now. We think parents and neighbors should be warned about him," Blaine said.

At the Orland Park church where the abuse allegedly occurred, last weekend's bulletin for parishioners made no mention of the sexual misconduct investigation. However, parishioners there say announcements were made at Masses held last weekend. At O'Connell's current assignment, St. Alphonsus in Lakeview, parishioners the I-Team spoke with knew virtually nothing about the allegations that caused the self-removal of their pastor.

A Northwest Side Chicagoan, Father O'Connell was featured in an article a year ago in the archdiocesan newspaper. In it he discusses having been in the first seminary class ordained by Cardinal Bernardin: "He referred to us as being 'rookies' with him," O'Connell was quoted. "There was a special bonding."

A spokesperson for Cardinal George disputed SNAP's claims and conclusions on Monday night.

"It is not correct to assume that every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest, is true," Archdiocese spokesperson Susan Burritt told the I-Team.

"The record shows that some allegations are false. Every allegation is respectfully received by the Archdiocese. It is investigated under the direction of the civil authorities, if they take the case. A fair process investigates the accusation before coming to a judgment," Burritt said.

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