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Head of bishops’ panel criticizes clerics

By September 10, 2008June 22nd, 2020No Comments

By Michael Paulson Globe Staff / September 8, 2008

The Illinois Supreme Court justice who headed a board chosen by the Catholic bishops to assist them with preventing clergy sexual abuse accuses one of the nation’s top Catholic prelates of dishonesty and sharply criticizes a second in Kerry Kennedy’s new book, “Being Catholic Now,” which is being released tomorrow.


The two cardinals named by Justice Anne M. Burke, Francis E. George of Chicago and Edward M. Egan of New York, both issued statements to the Globe rejecting the criticism.

Burke, who was interim chair of the National Review Board for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for two years, details the scope of her concern about the American bishops in an interview with Kennedy, a daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, in her book.

She says the board “started having problems with individual cardinals and bishops who thought we were too aggressive,” and that “bishops got away with concealing crime,” and “just when you think these bishops are getting it, they turn around and do something that in any other enterprise would result in their own dismissal.”

She also alleges that, after Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, was forced to resign as board chairman because he compared the bishops to the Mafia, the bishops declined to make her the permanent chairwoman because “there was no way they were going to appoint a woman to the position of chair.”

Burke’s strongest criticism is aimed at George, who is now the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. She says the cardinal withheld from her the fact that he was housing in his residence a priest accused of abuse in Delaware. She says she was “furious at his casual attitude” and that “the cardinal wasn’t honest with me. Perhaps he was not honest with himself.”

Asked by the Globe about Burke’s comment, George said in an e-mail that he allowed the Delaware priest to stay in his residence during a visit to Chicago, and that “to the best of my knowledge, I have been honest in every public and private statement I have made about the sexual abuse issue.”

“I stated publicly that there was no priest in ministry in Chicago who had against him a substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor,” he said. “That statement was true when I made it and it is true now.”

The priest from Delaware, he said, “was never in ministry here. He was someone I had known for several years who was coming to Chicago for a few days on business. At the time, I was unaware of all the details of his situation; but since, he let me know that a question had been raised about his past. I invited him to stay in my house rather than a parish when he came to Chicago while his own diocese was deciding whether or not he should be in ministry.”

Burke’s criticism of Egan is also pointed.

“Cardinal Edward Egan was offended by our insistence for independence,” she says. “I also think he was intimidated by the thoughts of fifty former FBI agents doing our questioning. His animosity reached an absurd level when he publicly uninvited us from attending the Cardinal’s Annual Gala in New York [an Order of Malta dinner].”

A spokesman for Egan, Joseph Zwilling, disputed Burke’s characterizations.

“The Cardinal never had or expressed an opinion on the matter of the so-called ‘dependence or independence’ of the Review Board,” Zwilling said.

“Throughout the process of audits in which former FBI agents were involved, the Archdiocese and the Cardinal Archbishop cooperated without hesitation. There was never any occasion for intimidation and at the last meeting the auditors were very complimentary regarding the Archdiocese and the Cardinal Archbishop.”

And, Zwilling said, “the Cardinal never invited the advisory board to the Order of Malta dinner, and therefore could not dis-invite them. When asked if they should be invited, he responded that in his opinion it would not be fitting because the Order of Malta had nothing to do with the sexual abuse crisis.”

Michael Paulson covers religion for the Globe. He blogs at and can be reached at

Correction: Because of an editing error, a story on Page A8 yesterday omitted the full response of Cardinal Edward M. Egan to criticisms by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne M. Burke, who served as chairman of the National Review Board, a panel appointed by the American bishops to review the sex abuse crisis. Egan’s spokesman said that the cardinal was fully cooperative with auditors who examined the New York archdiocese’s child protection measures, that the cardinal was not “intimidated” by the auditors, and that the cardinal had not disinvited board members from a gala dinner, but rather had expressed his opinion that “it would not be fitting” to invite them to the dinner, because the dinner was not related to the abuse crisis.

* * *

For immediate release: Monday, September 8, 2008

Statement by Barbara Blaine of Chicago, national president of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (312-399-4747)

Today’s Boston Globe discloses that a new book by an Illinois Supreme Court justice blasts Cardinal Francis George for letting a convicted Delaware child molester live part time in his mansion and work in the archdiocese.

In 2003, when the Chicago Sun Times disclosed the priest’s presence in Chicago, George initially claimed he didn’t know about Fr. Kenneth Martin’s past. Later, George’s spokesman split hairs, claiming the church’s sex abuse guidelines deal with only priests, and since Martin abused when he was a seminarian, the guidelines didn’t apply.

George’s secretive and reckless move happened in 2003, AFTER the US bishops supposedly committed to being “open and transparent” about clergy sex cases.

Sadly, however, the Martin case is just one of a long line of irresponsible, deceptive and insensitive steps taken by the Cardinal.

We hope every Chicago area Catholic and law enforcement official reads this book, or at least the sections relating to Cardinal George, and George’s recent deposition. We hope they will keep in mind that the author (Justice Anne Burke) is no church dissident or critic, but was deemed loyal and devout enough to be named to a national panel to oversee the church’s handling of sex abuse cases. And we hope they realize that the Martin case is part of a much larger, on-going, and disturbing pattern in the Chicago archdiocese.

– In March 2004, twice-suspended abusive priest Fr. John Calicott was caught working, living and teaching sex education to kids at his old parish, with the full knowledge of the pastor. George slapped Calicott on the hand, but refused to discipline or censure the pastor, Fr. George Miller, who knowingly put children in harm’s way and violated the US bishops’ national abuse policy.

– In February 2005, Fr. Michael T. Yakaitis worked at the University of Chicago’s Catholic Center, despite admitting sexual misconduct with a teenager years ago. A victim reported Yakaitis’ exploitation and manipulation to at least seven church officials. But George let the abuser stay in ministry until this was publicly exposed.

– In October 2005, George refused to discipline or warn others about Father Elijah Martin who seduced a young woman, fathered her child, ignored her, and refused to pay child support. Martin’s direct superiors also refused to give the mom any information about the priest’s whereabouts. George washed his hands of this controversy, despite repeated requests by our group to show compassion.

– In the fall of 2005, Fr. Daniel McCormack was arrested for child molestation. Weeks later, he was promoted to head a deanery, or region, of the archdiocese.

– In January 2006, McCormack was arrested again. He assaulted one 11 year old boy “on an almost daily basis” from Sept. 2005 until Jan. 2006. McCormack was kept in ministry for years despite several reports of child sexual abuse, including repeated written and verbal ones from a Catholic nun more than seven years ago to archdiocesan staff.

– We repeatedly urged Chicago Catholic officials to “aggressively and immediately” reach out to parishes where McCormack worked, and prodded George to personally visit those churches, emphatically reminding Catholics that they have a moral and civic duty to disclose anything they know about these allegations to law enforcement. He ignored us.

– For months awaiting trial, George let McCormack live with relatives, refusing to order him to stay in a treatment center for pedophiles.

– We were highly critical of that move, calling it ‘reckless’ and ‘irresponsible.’ We repeatedly urged George to reconsider. He ignored us.

– Five top church staff who were involved in the McCormack case have all essentially been promoted since then. Only one has been disciplined – the female school principal who actually called the police and reported McCormack’s crimes.

– Just last month, newly released secret church records and Cardinal George’s sworn deposition show that an accused serial predator priest, Fr. Joseph R. Bennett. Bennett was suspended from his suburban parish in 2006 only after at least a dozen of his victims had reported him to church authorities.

– Those same documents show that George overruled the recommendations of his own hand-picked abuse panel and had him alleged and secretly (but ineffectively) ‘monitored’ by a fellow priest (Fr. Leonard Dubi) who is a close friend of Bennett’s. The two of them own property together in Indiana. They then took a trip to Mexico together.

– George’s hand-picked abuse panel specifically, in two memos, urged George to NOT assign Dubi to this role. The Cardinal rejected their recommendation.

– The same deposition and documents also reveal that George and his top staffers spent considerable time and effort secretly trying to win the early release of a convicted serial child predator, Fr. Norbert Maday, who is in a Wisconsin prison.

– We suspect and fear there are or have been other jailed sex offender clerics who have gotten or are getting the Cardinal’s ‘behind the scenes’ help. We have asked George to stop it immediately, and to disclose if he’s taken similar reckless action with other pedophiles. He has ignored us.

–Last month, we publicly called on George to promise he’d never again try to get a convicted pedophile priest out of jail early. He has not responded.

– We fear other accused child-molesting clergy are in still Chicago parishes right now, unbeknownst to parishioners, allegedly being ‘monitored’ by peers. We’ve asked George to disclose who and where they are and/or abide by the church’s national abuse policy and publicly suspend them. He has ignored us.

In the same documents, Fr. Edward Grace, the archdiocese’s Vicar for Priests, urged Bennett to essentially lie about birthmarks on his genitals to ‘beat’ multiple child sex abuse allegations before a lay church panel.

– Yesterday, we asked George to discipline these ‘enablers’ – Dubi and Grace – whose deceit put kids in harm’s way.

The bottom line is that George continues to put his own reputation and comfort above the safety and well-being of his flock.

(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 17 years and have more than 8,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Peter Isely (414-429-7259) Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688), Mark Serrano (703-727-4940)