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.