McCaffrey accused of molesting up to 50 while superiors helped cover up abuse
BY KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporter January 21, 2014 9:34AM
Former priest Vince McCaffrey is accused of molesting as many as 50 children in at least four parishes in Chicago and the suburbs.
- Chicago archdiocese releases documents detailing sexual abuse by priests
- Bernardin gave priest repeated chances before forcing resignation
- Abuse victim finds it ‘extremely hard to believe’ church didn’t cover up abuse
- Children nicknamed priest ‘Happy Hands’
- Priest didn’t admit abuse until clemency hearing
- Steinberg: Where was the word of God in those men?
- ‘We don’t want to be snitches,’ church official wrote
Updated: February 23, 2014 6:18AM
Former priest Vince McCaffrey has been a notorious figure since 2002, when hundreds of photos showing boys as young as 6 being beaten, gagged and locked in cages were found hidden under his mattress.
Currently serving a 20-year sentence in Massachusetts for child porn that’s believed to be the longest of its kind ever handed to a priest, the 61-year-old has admitted molesting between 12 and 14 victims between 1976 and 1990, but he is accused of molesting as many as 50 in at least four parishes in Chicago and the suburbs: Our Lady Help of Christians on the West Side, Our Lady of Loretto in Hometown, St. Victor’s in Calumet City and St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling.
The archdiocese paid out $4 million to settle a suit brought by four of his victims in 2003.
Records released Tuesday show how McCaffrey’s fellow priests and archdiocese officials helped cover up his serial sex abuse for more than a decade, allowing him to keep abusing children for years after they’d first been alerted to his wrongdoing.
They show how church officials were more concerned about protecting the reputation of McCaffrey, themselves and the church than helping the children he’d hurt.
As early as 1980, the Rev. James T. O’Connor of Our Lady of Loretto wrote to the archdiocese complaining that it had hidden McCaffrey’s booze and sex problems from him when it appointed him an associate pastor.
Yet just two months later — after O’Connor had learned that McCaffrey had molested an eighth-grader in his parish, among others — O’Connor wrote to McCaffrey, telling him “I have done my best to cover” his pedophilia from suspicious parishioners.
Instead of alerting the police, he wrote McCaffrey, asking him: “Are you going to be man enough to say to your friends that you have decided that it is best for you to start over someplace else or are you going to throw the blame on me?”
Cardinal John Cody wrote at the time to McCaffrey, who was being treated at a church center for alcoholism and pedophilia, telling him “I’m delighted to learn that your sojourn ... is proving of such great help to you. ... I am certain that you will soon be able to return to your fine priestly work.”
In the years that followed at his next parish, St. Victor’s, McCaffrey was the subject of three or four allegations of sexual misconduct, none of which resulted in prosecution, according to the church records.
But in March 1987 another priest noted yet more serious allegations against McCaffery from two boys in Hometown. According to the priest’s memo, McCaffery confessed to another priest, Jim O’Connor, of St. Joseph Church in Libertyville. But when one of the boys’ mothers, who’d gone to the police, said “’I won’t sign a complaint as long as something is done about his problem,” O’Connor, who’d gone to the police station to help, “told her it would be,” keeping the scandal quiet, Kealy wrote.
Nine months later, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin moved McCaffrey again, to St. Josaphat Parish. “I know you are fully prepared now to minister to the people of Saint Josaphat’s with the same dedication and devotion you have always manifested in your previous assignments,” he wrote.
Unsurprisingly, the pattern continued. In 1989, Vicar of Priests Rev. Raymond Goedert wrote to the cardinal that an anonymous caller had again accused McCaffrey of yet another assault. Goedert said he’d met with McCaffrey and another church official and “we all agreed that the best thing would be for Vince to move.
“We don’t know if the anonymous caller will strike again, but Dom (Grassi) feels he can’t run the risk of the parish being hurt in any way,” Goedert wrote, adding, “The sad thing is that this threat will hang over Vince until the day he dies.”
Goedert suggested McCaffrey be moved again, this time to Our Lady of Good Counsel, adding in a subsequent letter that he was confident McCaffrey can still find a “niche in ministry as a priest.”
It wasn’t until 1991 that McCaffrey was banned from his priestly duties by Bernardin to “avoid even the possibility of risks to young people.”
And when McCaffrey finally resigned from the priesthood in 1993, Bernardin wrote him a strikingly cordial letter sharing his “thoughts and prayers during this time of transition” and adding “Know, too, of my gratitude for the service you offered God’s people through your 15 years as priest of this Archdiocese.”
Even after McCaffrey’s serial abuse had been established beyond doubt and forced his resignation, church officials still seemed confused how to deal with new allegations.
When another victim came forward in 1993 and “strongly inferred he was sexually victimized by Vince McCaffrey,” church official Steve Sidlowski apparently made no effort to contact police.
Instead, he wrote a memo questioning whether he should “formally confront McCaffrey with the new allegation or merely continue to encourage (the victim) to utilize our Victim Assistance Ministry services and point out how McCaffrey … is leaving the priesthood.”
After McCaffrey was convicted in 2003, the church in 2005 and 2008 finally formally acknowledged many more victims.
He wasn’t defrocked until 2010.
And in it wasn’t until 2011 that McCaffrey admitted he had an inappropriate relationship even after he’d left the priesthood.