Priest Reinstated After Sexual Abuse Claim Refuted

The pastor of a Roman Catholic church in the North Side Lake View neighborhood has been reinstated after an investigation found an allegation of sexual contact with a child nearly 20 years ago unfounded.

The Rev. Michael W. O’Connell will resume his role as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish on Thursday, according to a statement from Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Susan Burritt.

"I knew the truth and I knew the Lord ... stood with me," O'Connell said at a Tuesday news conference.

But the decision to reinstate O’Connell drew heated criticism from the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

“We are disappointed and surprised that Cardinal Francis George is putting Fr. Michael W. O’Connell back on the job despite an accusation that he sexually assaulted a boy in 1990,” a statement from SNAP read.

“We have met this victim and find him very credible. And we’ve seen dozens of cases across the country in which Catholic officials have reinstated an accused child molesting cleric only to later oust him permanently,” the statement read.

O’Connell agreed to step aside in early December at Cardinal George’s request after a formal allegation was presented to archdiocesan officials that he engaged in sexual contact with a minor while working at Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park in the late 1990s, according to the statement.

The Cook County Sheriff’s office conducted an independent investigation of the claim and found the allegation to be unfounded, according to the Archdiocese. The claim was also reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office.

The allegation was also investigated by the Archdiocese, which “did not find reason to suspect” that the abuse occurred, and recommended O’Connell be returned to active ministry, according to the statement.

“It takes a great deal of courage and strength for child sex abuse victims to speak up,” the SNAP statement said. “They often suffer in silence and self blame for decades. Accusations are rarely made lightly. We hope that others will not be discouraged by O’Connell’s reinstatement and Catholic officials and parishioners will remain vigilant in reporting known or suspected crimes to secular authorities, not church figures.”

O’Connell worked at the Orland Park parish between 1997 and 2012, and has held various posts within the archdiocese since his ordination in 1983, including a parish in Lake Forest.

O’Connell could not be reached for comment. The sheriff’s office, state’s attorney’s office and DCFS did not immediately return calls for comment from the Sun-Times.

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