Bishop Kicanas responds to media reports on eve of bishops’ meeting

Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of Tucson, Ariz.,  vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, has responded to media reports that he supposedly ignored evidence of sexual abuse by a future Chicago priest, Daniel McCormack, now serving time in prison. McCormack was a seminarian when then-Father Kicanas was rector of Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in the Chicago Archdiocese.

The media reports — with one of the first being a blog by Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register — come on the eve of the U.S. bishops’ annual fall meeting in Baltimore, where they will elect a new president. If the conference follows past practice, Bishop Kicanas as vice president of the bishops will be elected to succeed Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George as USCCB president.

In one part of the response, Bishop Kicanas said:

I would never defend endorsing McCormack’s ordination if I had had any knowledge or concern that he might be a danger to anyone, and I had no such knowledge or concern. At no time while McCormack was a seminarian at Mundelein did I receive any allegation of pedophilia or child molestation against him. I never received any allegation, report or concern about McCormack during his seminary years at Mundelein that involved sexual abuse of anyone. Prior to ordination, each student’s readiness for ordination was discussed at length by seminary administrators, faculty and the diocesan bishop. Furthermore, McCormack was evaluated, as was every seminarian, each of his four years by faculty and students who were given an opportunity to endorse or not endorse his continuing in the seminary. No student nor faculty nor anyone ever negatively commented on McCormack in all the endorsements he received. With the harm that he has done to children and families, it is tragic that he was ordained. Would that he had never been ordained.

McCormack was ordained in 1994. By 2006 McCormack was suspended from active ministry when he was arrested on charges of molesting two boys; more charges were added as more victims came forward. In July 2007 he was sentenced to five years in prison immediately after he pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse stemming from charges he molested five boys between 2001 and 2005.

His arrest rocked the Chicago Archdiocese, because it came out that the priest, then pastor at St. Agatha Parish, had been arrested and questioned in late August 2005 about allegations made by the family of one boy stemming from incidents three years earlier. Police released him because of a lack of evidence. Chicago archdiocesan officials did not remove him initially because no formal allegations had been made against him by the boy or his family. In the aftermath Cardinal George repeatedly apologized for how the case was handled and he instituted a series of changes in procedures aimed at preventing similar situations.

18 Responses

  1. Even taking what Bishop Kicanas says at face value if he received no reports of sexual abuse, his response does acknowledge that the Kicanas had received reports of McCormack’s involvement in homosexual activities, apparently after McCormack had been drinking. But this did not trigger any question in Kicanas’ mind that McCormack might be unfit for the priesthood? It was only his drinking that was the main concern? His response is frankly not believable.

  2. Any comments on the allegation that Bishop Kicanas was quite happy to make schools in his diocese “feeders” to Notre Dame. Especially after the university gave a “honorary” degree to a person who supports abortion & infanticide?

  3. Now that Bishop has clarified that he had no knowledge of any sexual abuse by McCormack,Let us forget this issue.

  4. Very Concerned Catholic’s comment regarding Bp. Kicanas is off the mark–wrong. There is nothing in the bishop’s statement that supports VCC’s assertion. The issue concerns McCormack’s suitability for ordination, not behavior learned about him after his ordination.

  5. Duane and Mystic,
    Did you read Bishop Kicanas’ actual statement, or are you just going off the shorter excerpt above? I think VCC is indeed correct. Kicanas told the Register:

    “While McCormack was at Mundelein, a student commented to his counselor that when they were in Mexico studying Spanish, McCormick had been in a bar where they had been drinking and that as they were leaving the bar, McCormack had in public patted a person on the behind over clothing. When the counselor reported that to us, McCormack was called in and was asked to give an explanation. His explanation was exactly as was reported to the counselor by the other seminarian. Neither account indicated any sexual act or intention.

    In the course of that discussion, McCormack revealed that while at the college several years before he had had two consensual sexual experiences with peers while they were drinking. He assured us that he had worked this through with his spiritual director and that he wanted to live a celibate life.”

    Something was fishy about that incident in Mexico that the seminarian peer reported it and it made its way to Kicanas. And something was concerning enough about the 3 instances that Cardinal George, retrospectively thought one of them was pedophilia.

    Have you seen his deposition where he talked about Fr. McCormack’s history?:

    THE WITNESS: This is a memo based upon report and the memo does say that his problem is drinking.

    BY MR. ANDERSON:

    Attorney: It also says that he had sexually abused at least one minor –

    Cardinal George: Yes.

    Attorney: — and had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct

    Cardinal George: Absolutely.

    Attorney:. — with others –

    Cardinal George: That’s –

    Attorney:. — while in seminary?

    Cardinal George: But — and that’s why he should have never been ordained. I agree with you, sir.

    Attorney:. And so he was not only a problem drinker, he was a pedophile?

    Cardinal George: I believe you’re correct, sir

    Whether he engaged in sex with a minor or not, there were not one, not two, but three instances of sexual improprieties that Kicanas knew about before McDormack was ordained. All of them were homosexual in nature and associated with drinking.

    Does knowledge of these situations mean that McCormack would have been unsuitable for ordination? In hindsight, Cardinal George said he should not have been ordained, and Vicar General Canary also said he should not have been ordained.. Bishop Kicanas said no problema–based on what I knew, it was fine and it would been unfair to not ordain him.

    See the issue now?

  6. This swiftboating of Bishop Kicanus is deeply saddening. There are several bishops in the US who were, at one time, seminary rectors, and every one of them has had to make decisions about recommending men for ordination who, in hindsight, should not have been ordained — just as every diocesan bishop has had to make decisions to ordain men based on less than perfect information.

    The sickening part is that this campaign of character assasination against Bishop Kicanus is selective and is obviously about nothing more than the attempt — successful, as it turns out — to derail his election as USCCB president. It is shameful.

    If Bishop Kicanus is too liberal for you, fine. Say so. But don’t pretend that it is about anything other than that. Or, if you truly are righteously indignant over his failure to see the future when he was at Mundelein, then be fair about it. Go after all the other former rectors, now bishops, who let future pedophiles get through the system.

    But be sure to go after the conservatatives as well as the liberals.

  7. Compassionate Catholic,
    You make interesting points. I for one would say in response that the visibility on Bishop Kicanas was because of his running for President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and what he said publicly just 3 years ago about how he viewed McCormack.

    If another rector or person with similar judgment questions is running for USCCB president in the future , I’d come back here and criticize him regardless of whether he was liberal or conservative.

  8. I hope that is true. But let’s be honest. The scrutiny on Kicanas was only there in the first place because of his so-called liberalism. If rabid conservatives hadn’t decided to make him a target, you would never have heard of the McCormack connection.

    No previous USCCB presidential candidate has ever been so picked apart. In fact, usually these elections are a yawner. Still, I have no problem with Archbishop Dolan’s election and, truth be told, I might have voted for him too. I think he’ll be a great spokesman for the conference.

    But what dismays me about this sad episode is that it brings into the ecclesial world the kind of dishonorable character attacks that have marred secular politics for so long. And now that the genie is out of the bottle, I shudder to think of where we go from here.

  9. “Also a Concerned Catholic” is making spurious arguments–and making up her own facts. Interesting to see the smear campaign continue here at CNS. For the record, Kicanas repudiated the quotes Also a Concerned Catholic wants to hang around his neck. Kicanas now says the ’07 Sun-Times story misquoted him rather egregiously. He says McCormack shouldn’t have been ordained.

    Also a Concerned Catholic falsely implies that George had arrived at an independent opinion of the alleged complaint involving a minor, when in fact, if you read the full deposition, it is clear that George is simply restating and overinterpreting a 2006 memo written by Canary. George is saying, in so many words: Canary’s memory is that there was an incident involving a minor (in his 2006 interview with independent auditors hired by George to look into the McCormack case, Canary did not mention pedophilia). These are the same tactics Carol McKinley used on her blog and ours:

    http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/?p=10879

    I find them despicable.

  10. First and foremost, I have nothing positive nor negative to say about Bishop Kicanas. However, I think if this situation shows us (Catholics) anything; it’s that, at least in regards to Mr. McCormack (because I refuse to call such a man Father), the Church knew of this mans sketchy history, but still allowed him to become a priest (and to soil the lovely vocation with his heinous crimes). And this, I believe, is the underlying issue; that the Church, in seeking men of faith to fill its churches, did not take stringent measures to make sure these “men” were without wax (which is just another way of saying “without flaws”). Nevertheless, as a proud and loyal Catholic, I will always stand by the Church, through thick and thin, and even in this situation I will stand-by the Church because I understand that it’s very difficult to screen absolutely everyone that walks through your doors. And not only that, but these people are extremely good manipulators and socio-paths; they know, because they have to, how to present themselves to society and how to appear normal. Why do you people express, for instance on the Oprah Winfrey or any other such programs that touch upon these very sensitive issues, their outright shock or state that they “had no idea” about such individuals’ dark behaviours. Does this excuse the church, no? But it certainly is a wide-spread problem that needs to be dealt with, for the good of all involved. Peace and God bless one-and-all!

  11. Michael, I agree with your premise. But those people without flaws that you’d like to see ordained just don’t exist. The question, then, becomes how do we discern between acceptable flaws and those that put people at risk? And how do we evaluate a candidate’s past behavior with both christian charity and cold, hard objectvity?

    That is the dilemma that seminaries and dioceses deal with every day. God knows that some have done a better job than others — and some have done an absolutely atrocious job.

    But I can’t bring myself to condemn somebody like Bishop Kicanas who, I believe, acted in good faith. And I find it contemptible that some, for their own political purposes, have chosen to savage this man.

    They may think their actions are justified because they act (in their minds) in the service of the Church, but that is the sad irony of all this. If the pedophilia crisis should have taught us anything it is that uncharitable behavior, even in the service of the Church, ultimately hurts that which you seek to serve.

  12. Isn’t there enough character assassinations going on in the church and elsewhere? Don’t we as Catholics believe in redemption, forgiveness? Are we expected to be free from any sin — we are all sinners and we all make mistakes. Let him(her) who is without sin cast the first stone. Being accused of misconduct is very humiliating, no matter what degree — of course pedophilia is not sexual, but a illness…. we should pray for all of them. But we must admit our failings and take responsibility for them. Let us all pray for priests, bishops and laypeople who are sinners and stop the holier than thou nonsense.

  13. Grant,
    First of all, I am “he” not a “she.” I don’t think there is anything effeminate about my writing style that should have made you conclude I was a woman, not a man, but I’ll get past that for now. Secondly, I have no idea about who Carol McKinley is, so I can’t comment on her or what that woman has posted elsewhere, nor do I have any idea why you are bringing up somebody else who has not posted here. You are batting 0 for 2 on credibility before I even respond to you.

    In my books, Kicanas’ credibility is also strained. If the thing with the minor in Mexico was a minor issue, then why did a fellow seminarian report it at all? And if it was just a friendly pat on the butt, why did it go to the rector of the seminary, and then lead to McCormack’s admission that that he had two situations of homosexual activity with college seminarians? And then that was serious enough to send him off for a psych evaluation? But Kicanas concluded, there was nothing to worry about?

    You said, “For the record, Kicanas repudiated the quotes.” But he has no record of repudiating them at the time, and he really didn’t repudiate them–he did not claim he never said those exact words that were published. Here is what he said:

    “I do take exception to that quote. It does not accurately reflect what I said and was put into a context that is not accurate. For instance, I would never defend endorsing McCormack’s ordination if I had had any knowledge or concern that he might be a danger to anyone, and I had no such knowledge or concern.

    Kicanas basically said he would never defend endorsing McCormack’s ordination if he had knowledge or concern there might have been a problem with him, and since Kicanas said he had “no such knowledge or concern”, Kicanas is saying that in the absence of concern, logically he would have had no reason to not defend endorsing McCormack’s ordination. A defense of McCormack’s ordination is exactly what he was quoted as saying in the Sun Times article. Kicanas contradicted himself in his own attempt to distance himself from his own quote.

    It further defies credibility that Kicanas didn’t go back to the Sun Times right away after the 2007 article to correct them if he really felt they had misquoted him or taken his comments out of context. Most of these kinds of interviews are recorded these days and he could demanded they send him a copy of a recording or transcript and even if their was no recording, he could have demanded a correction/retraction. Where is his written communication to the Sun Times asking for a correction? And what the heck good does it do to verbally tell the Tuscon reporters, even if he did that? Is there anything printed to verify he told them? If he really was misquoted on such a serious matter and didn’t have the sense as a bishop to communicate that to the paper who quoted him in 2007, then I don’t want him as our USCCB President.

    Check out what Phil Lawler just posted about him over at CatholicCulture:

    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=731

    First, there were multiple reports that McCormack had homosexual encounters before and during his days in the seminary. Personnel files in the Chicago archdiocese have yielded abundant evidence that McCormack had a history of homosexual behavior, and some of his reported actions could easily have been classified as abusive, even if they did not involve children. It strains credulity that the seminary rector would not have recognized, at a bare minimum, that this young man had serious problems.

    Perhaps more importantly, Bishop Kicanas showed no indication whatsoever that he has sought to learn from what was obviously a serious mistake. To this day he argues that there was no reason to question McCormack’s fitness for the priesthood. His decision to allow the man’s ordination was one problem, now fading into the distant past. But his refusal to recognize the source of his mistake—to take the problem of homosexuality seriously, and to see at least the possibility of a link between aberrant sexuality and abuse, was a problem today—a problem for his candidacy to become the public voice of the American hierarchy.

  14. Also a Concerned Catholic,

    Don’t be offended that Grant addressed you as “she”. There may not be anything feminine in your writing style, but there isn’t anything particularly masculine about it either. Hey, the guy had a 50/50 shot!

    Okay, now on to the serious stuff. I was once a major seminarian and I know how the process works. There are many layers of evaluation for each candidate — phychological, spiritual, academic, pastoral, etc. The seminary rector’s is but one of many and is based primarily on the input of others.

    The buck stops with the diocesan bishop and, to a lesser extent, with his vocation director. They should know their candidates better than anybody and if they don’t, shame on them. They have access to every bit of information on that candidate that is on file in the seminary.

    Bottom line: Rectors do not ordain. Bishops do. So if Bishop Kicanas isn’t qualified to be USCCB president, then neither was Cardinal Bernadin nor Cardinal George. (Yes, I know George didn’t ordain McCormack, but he did promote him even after abuse allegations come out during his priesthood).

    Were you this righteously indignant during Cardinal George’s presidency? Or did you turn a blind eye because he wasn’t “liberal”? If you really meant what you posted earlier about how you’d criticize any other presidential candidate whether liberal or not, then shouldn’t you now be demanding Cardinal George’s resignation and, for that matter, that of Bishop Kicanas?

    After all, USCCB presidents merely speak for the conference. Diocesan bishops are the ones with the real power when it comes to enabling or inhibiting pedophile-priests.

  15. To Compassionate Catholic,
    Thanks for your response, which is considerably more reasonable in tone than that of some of the others who barged into the discussion here with claims of “spurious arguments” and “despicable claims” and then were gone when logic refused their own “spurious arguments.”

    I’m not familiar with who has access to what information on seminarians. In my diocese, the vocation director is more involved prior to the candidate entering the seminary, and then after the seminarian enters, the vocation director is off mostly recruiting new seminarians. I should think the bishop has so many other responsibilities that he would also not be close enough to individual seminarians that he would be in a position to judge their suitability for ordination as well as the rector, who seems logically like he would have more ready access to detailed information about the seminarian on a day-to-day basis.There are probably only 5 to 10 seminarians per year ordained, so it seems like the rector should have a good understanding of all of them. I agree with you that the buck ultimately stops with the diocesan bishop, but it just seems to me that the bishop would rely greatly on the judgment of the seminary rector.

    Even if it was the bishop’s ultimate call at the time, look at the history of then Archbishop/Cardinal Bernadin:

    http://www.dads.org/GayPriestProblem.asp

    http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/abbott/060818

    My comments relate to the judgement of Kicanas as rector of Mundelin Seminary. Here is an excellent overview of the gay sub-culture at Mundelin in the 90s from Michael Rose’s book, “Goodbye Good Men”

    http://bit.ly/91kVWv

    Read the first quote in the chapter from a former Mundelein seminarian: “the issue was never one of my suitability for ordination. Rather it was that the gay clique had been given veto power over who would be ordained.” One hall in the seminary dorm was nicknamed the “Catwalk,” for where the more fashionable gay seminarians lived. It was a big event at the seminary whenever a seminarian would “come out” as being a homosexually oriented person. When a seminarian “came out,” he would be wined and dined by certain faculty priests.

    Even if all this did not happen on Kicanas’ watch as rector–and I cannot tell what happened under Kicanas vs his successor Fr. Canary–a culture like this does not come about overnight. Add all of this together, including what I posted earlier, plus the opposition by SNAP, opposition by Bishops Accountability, and endorsement of Kicanas from militant GLBT “Catholic” Rainbow Sash movement who felt Kicanas was the right guy for the job, and I still stand by my conclusions that Bishop Kicanas would have been a bad choice. If you disagree, then we’re just on fundamentally different pages and it’s probably not worth the debate. After the election, Bishop Accoutability said, “His role in the convicted pedophile Rev. Daniel McCormack’s training and ordination, and his misleading statements about his own actions, made Kicanas a poor choice for president of the USCCB.”

    As for Cardinal George, I personally wasn’t following the 2007 USCCB election closely at the time. I never got emails complaining about George’s suitability to be named USCCB president or had friends talking about it like happened this time around. Do you believe there was a similar ruckus in 2007? Had I heard similar allegations about him at the time, I would have been similarly indignant.

    The focus of this thread and the original post was about Kicanas’ comments on the eve of the USCCB election. Weighing in on the election and the suitability of a candidate to be the chief spokesperson and public face of the U.S. Conference of Bishops seems fundamentally different from calling for the resignation of a sitting bishop. If CNS wants to create a separate thread about demanding the resignation of various bishops in the country for their misdeeds, misconduct, or mismangement, I’d be glad to contribute. I think the list of bishops who should go is much longer than 2.

  16. I’ll simply go back to my original premise, which is that the rabid right of the US Catholic Church targeted Bishop Kicanas, and that is why they unearthed the McCormack story. Had an “acceptable” conservative been the presumptive successor to Cardinal George they would not have gone the extra inch — let alone the extra mile — to find such dirt.

    Why else would the Register — a publication that has been an apologist for the bishops all through the abuse crisis — lead the charge against Kicanas? Only because their real passion isn’t weeding out pedophiles but weeding out so-called liberal bishops. The campaign against Kicanas wasn’t really about pedophilia — it was about right-wing politics.

    That is the reason you received no emails during the 2007 USCCB election, because nobody was campaigning against George and, therefore, wasn’t researching anything to use against him. Had somebody wanted to, they could have, no doubt, come up with something on him, just as they would have on any less-than-perfect, all-too-human bishop.

    I don’t know you, ACC, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are many smug, self-satisfied, self-professed “Orthodox” Catholics out there who are patting themselves on the back for the hatchet job they did on this man.

    And they’ll know we are Christians by our love!

  17. To Compassionate Catholic,
    You said “the rabid right of the US Catholic Church targeted Bishop Kicanas, and that is why they unearthed the McCormack story.” I just don’t see where the facts entirely bear this out. The original “unearthing,” if that is what you want to call it, seems to have come from Chicago Public Radio:

    http://www.wbez.org/story/undefined/sex-abuse-lurks-behind-catholic-election

    I like NPR and public radio, but in my part of the country, NPR and public radio are considered “liberal.” SNAP, who came out against Kicanas, is not known for being “rabid right” either.

    Can we take the “liberal” vs “right-wing” labels off this discussion for a second? My question to you “Compassionate Catholic” is the following: Knowing what you now know about Bishop Kicanas and looking at what I have conveyed as logical arguments, do you think Kicanas would have been the best choice for USCCB President? In other words, if you were sitting in that room voting, would you have voted for him? A simple Yes or No answer is all that’s needed. You can see my answer above, but in case it’s not clear, it starts with an “n”.

    CC, it looks like it’s just you and me who are remaining engaged in this discussion. I don’t think I’m going to sway you and you’re not going to sway me either, so we can probably just agree to call it quits after this, and save our energies 2013 when the next USCCB election comes along.

  18. Fair enough. You are right that we’ve probably beaten this horse to death, so this will be my last post.

    Do I think Kicanas was the best choice? Probably not. But that has more to do with Archbishop Dolan, who I think has the potential to be an exceptional USCCB president. I said as much in an earlier post.

    My concern, though, is that it appears that the bishops weren’t voting for Dolan so much as voting against Kicanas, and doing so mainly because they are scared to death these days to be viewed as being soft on pedophilia.

    So the smear campaign worked. And at the end of the day, that is what really troubles me.

    But so be it. Now on to tilt at other windmills.

    Peace.

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