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After Dallas meeting, cardinal looks ahead

By Michelle Martin
Staff writer

In the aftermath of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ landmark decisions on priestly sexual abuse in Dallas, Cardinal George and other church leaders have moved to implement the new charter and norms, and have begun looking ahead.

On June 26, after eight archdiocesan priests were either removed from or resigned from ministry in the preceding 10 days, Cardinal George reflected on what the scandals will mean for the church in a talk at the City Club of Chicago.

“What can we say about the future of the church?” Cardinal George asked. “The church hopefully will be purified through this. If there was any hubris attached to the exercise of ordained priesthood in the church, hopefully that will be gone also. If there have been priests at times who thought they were somehow above not only civil law but also above moral law in a few cases, then certainly I think that will change. I hope it does and there will be genuine conversion to Christ and to his service and the service of his people. The church’s moral voice is necessarily is weakened in the midst of this time of crisis, and also her institutional fabric may or may not be weakened.

“In the last analysis people come to church to know Jesus Christ as he wants to be known and loved and to be touched by him through the sacraments which are the actions of the risen Christ in our space and our time. Our future therefore is in Christ’s hands. If the church is a little less a provider of services and a little more a school of discipleship, that will be all to the good.”

After his talk, the cardinal was swarmed by reporters who wanted to know what will happen with the five priests who had been in monitored ministry and were withdrawn against their will following the bishops’ meeting.

They include: Father John Calicott, who had been serving as pastor of Holy Angels on the South Side; Father John Keehan, who had been pastor of St. Ann Parish on the West Side; Father Daniel Buck, who had been associate pastor at St. Mary Parish in Buffalo Grove; Father James Ray, who had been in the archdiocese’s Office of Health and Human Affairs; and Father Thomas Swade, coordinator of the archdiocese’s racism workshops.

The archdiocese’s independent review board had looked into allegations against all five in the past and found reason to believe they were founded, but they had been allowed to stay in monitored ministry. While Calicott had been publicly withdrawn from ministry in 1994, and publicly returned in 1995, the only people who knew the other priests were being monitored were those assigned to watch over them.

Such arrangements are not allowed under the new norms approved in Dallas June 14, which call for every priest who has any substantiated allegation of sexual abuse of a minor against him to be withdrawn from all church ministry and in nearly all cases laicized. Priests who are elderly or infirm may not be laicized, but must refrain from wearing the Roman collar, calling themselves “Father” or in any way presenting themselves as priests.

Under canon law, the priests have the option to appeal their forced withdrawal and possible laicization, the cardinal said, and archdiocesan canon lawyers are trying to figure out how the appeal process will work. The appeals might have to be heard in Rome, or Rome could grant the authority to adjudicate the cases to a tribunal in Chicago.

Three other priests who had been serving in monitored ministry resigned voluntarily the week after the bishops’ meeting. They were Father Richard Bartz, who was serving as a chaplain at Ravenswood Hospital; Father William Lupo, who was serving as pastor of St. Peter Damian in Bartlett; and Father Daniel Holihan, who had retired last year.

The new rules also will apply to several other retired priests who no longer serve in active ministry, including Father R. Peter Bowman, Father Marion Sneig and Father Fassbinder.

The named of all three have been released publicly in the last four months as part of ongoing investigations, mostly of old incidents.

Indeed, the cardinal said, most of the incidents brought to the archdiocese attention have been old, and most of the new allegations that have come up recently have been against priests who are dead or retired—most of whose names came up in the archdiocese’s first review of its files 10 years ago.

But for the victims, the issue is never too old, the cardinal said, and church leaders must continue to learn from them.

“For the victims, it’s as if it happened yesterday,” he said. “It’s always contemporary.”


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