O'Connell, pastor at St. Alphonsus Church in Lakeview, is once again under investigation by officials of the Archdiocese of Chicago and the Cook County Sheriff's Department, after just being reinstated a week ago. The latest controversy comes after a former south suburban resident claims to have witnessed lewd acts by Father O'Connell 16 years ago in the locker room of a local health club.
The alleged sexual misconduct is said to have occurred in the late 1990s when O'Connell was assigned to Our Lady of the Woods in Orland Park.
The former south suburban resident says he contacted the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, after learning that O'Connell was being reinstated after an investigation of a sex abuse claim made last December. That first accusation prompted O'Connell to "voluntarily" step aside from ministry during the investigation.
Now in his 30's, the new accuser told police and church investigators on Tuesday that he saw Father O'Connell molest a teenage boy at a gym on S. Harlem Avenue.
"I saw Mike in the locker room with this young man who was sitting on the bench in the locker room and Mike had his, he was behind him and he had his hands down his pants in the frontal section," the man told the I-Team.
When he met with church investigators Tuesday morning, he says he told them they dismissed the first allegation too quickly.
"How do you not know this stuff when everyone in my neighborhood knows this stuff? How are you that clueless when there are so many people who look at this guy in a bad light," the man told the I-Team.
He claims that he tried to pursue the matter in 1999 after allegedly seeing the abuse.
"Who would believe me who would believe me? It's my word as an 18-year-old punk kid vs. quite frankly a pillar of the community and everything like that. And the other truth of the matter is, I did tell people but that doesn't mean they listened to me, but I told them," the alleged witness told the I-Team.
In a statement sent to the I-Team 10 minutes after our story aired Tuesday night at 6 p.m., the Archdiocese of Chicago says that Father Michael O'Connell "has agreed not to be present in the parish school, or alone with a child, until these issues are resolved." Church officials say that "unless there is further information that warrants additional action, Fr. Michael O'Connell will remain in ministry."
The church statement says that "this morning, a person with information regarding an alleged abuse of a minor that happened 15 years ago, met with officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. He was accompanied by a representative from SNAP. The person provided limited information. He did not provide his name, street address, town or state of residence and declined to answer many questions. The Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review will review the limited information provided and discuss the matter with the Independent Review Board for its advice. The Archdiocese will cooperate with any further investigation that may be undertaken by civil authorities.
"The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin. The Archdiocese encourages anyone who has been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious, lay employee or volunteer, to come forward. Complete information about reporting sexual abuse can be found on the Archdiocesan website under Protecting Children at www.archchicago.org or by calling the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, 312-534-5205 or 1-800-994-6200, or the Office of Assistance Ministry, 312-534-8267 or toll-free at 866-517-4528."