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Community Reacts to Sex Abuse Claims Against Chicago Priest

Posted on Dec 11, 2013

Among a string of recent news headlines in the Chicago area concerning clergy and child sexual abuse scandals is the story of one long-time priest who has been accused of sexually abusing a male, underage student in the late 1990s.

The priest at the center of this clergy sexual abuse scandal is Father Michael O’Connell, the current pastor at St. Alphonsus Parish, located in the north side of Chicago. However, the case in question revolves around the time that Father O’Connell served at his previous assignment at Our Lady of the Woods Church, located in Orland Park, during the 1990s. The young male has alleged that O’Connell pulled him from classes and sexually abused him on more than one occasion.

O’Connell, who has served at St. Alphonsus Parish since 2012, helped to establish Our Lady of the Woods Parish in 1984, and later served as the pastor there from 1997 to 2012.

In response to these allegations, Father Michael O’Connell has voluntarily stepped down from performing his clerical duties as pastor, even though he still remains in the position at the church. He also has moved out of the parish’s residential home while the investigation is underway.

The Diocese’s position is that O’Connell be allowed to take a “temporary hiatus” during this time until all of the facts are gathered.

Cardinal Francis George issued a statement to St. Alphonsus Parish members letting them know about the current allegations, but has stated that the investigation has proved no judgment of guilt yet. Susan Burritt, an Archdiocese spokesperson, stated that, “It is not correct to assume that every allegation of sexual abuse of a minor by a Catholic priest is true. The records show that some allegations are false.”

However, there has been a mixed reaction by the public concerning this case. Barbara Blaine, the president of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) has stated that, “we should always err on the side of protecting the vulnerable.”

St. Alphonsus Parish, where the Father presently serves, also is home to an elementary school along with the church. Here, many other students could potentially be put in harm’s way if these claims are true. Many believe that the Archdiocese should have suspended Father O’Connell, rather than let him take a “hiatus” from ministry service.

But some parishioners from both St. Alphonsus and Our Lady of the Woods Parishes hope that Father O’Connell is exonerated from these allegations. These individuals describe him as “a good man.” Parents of students attending St. Alphonsus Academy have declined to comment about the case and priest serving their church and parish.

Until the results of the investigation are determined, it’s clear that feelings—and loyalties—remain in conflict among community members. Many want to believe the best about the clergy that faithfully serve them for so many years.

At Lane & Lane, we have experience dealing with a variety of child sexual abuse cases, including those that involve clergy members. We may be able to you understand your legal rights, too, if you’ve been sexually abused. It may not be too late to take legal action. Call us today at 1-888-484-9881 for more information.

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