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Survivor Narratives

Daniel J. McCormack

Father Daniel McCormack is one of the most infamous child abusers anywhere in Illinois. For years, he preyed on young, vulnerable boys in Black parishes on the West Side of Chicago. What separates McCormack from other prolific child-abusing clerics is that his abuse both occurred and was uncovered relatively recently. And despite reforms aimed at protecting children and removing abusive clerics, the Archdiocese of Chicago accomplished neither goal in the wake of McCormack’s abuse. In fact, even after McCormack was arrested for sexually abusing young boys, Cardinal Francis George himself allowed the serial predator ample opportunity to abuse again. All told, the archdiocese has received more than 100 claims of child sex abuse against McCormack—and has paid millions to survivors to settle those claims.

McCormack was born in 1968 and raised in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood near Midway Airport. He was drawn to the priesthood when he was just a child. “I believe I was called at the earliest of ages,” McCormack later explained, “and then I struggled with how to answer.” He studied American and African American history at an undergraduate seminary in Niles before enrolling at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake in Mundelein to continue his priestly formation.

There were plenty of warning signs while McCormack was a seminarian at Saint Mary. Three separate incidents of sexual abuse were brought to the attention of school officials in the spring of 1992. The incidents took place during 1988 and 1991; two involved McCormack allegedly abusing adult males, while the other involved him allegedly abusing a child. Saint Mary apparently dealt with these reports according to the standards of the time—meaning it didn’t deal with them at all. McCormack was allowed to continue his studies; apparently he was not disciplined, and there is no evidence the allegations were reported to law enforcement or even documented in his file. As Cardinal George conceded years later, McCormack should have been removed from seminary and never allowed to become a priest in the first place.

But the church wasted this early opportunity to prevent the tragedies that would follow McCormack’s wake throughout his tenure in the archdiocese. McCormack was ordained a priest just two years later, in 1994. His list of assignments over the next decade included parishes in areas of Chicago where the population was mostly Black: Saint Ailbe in Calumet Heights, Holy Family on the Near West Side, and Saint Agatha in North Lawndale. And it was only a matter of time before more allegations surfaced.

In 1999, while McCormack was assigned to Holy Family, a nun who was principal of the parish school reported an allegation of child sex abuse. A fourth grade boy had told her he approached McCormack to become an altar server; McCormack told the boy to pull down his pants so the priest could measure him. The nun confronted McCormack, who admitted he had “used poor judgment.” The boy’s mother also met with McCormack and then asked the nun not to pursue the matter further. The nun nevertheless raised McCormack’s behavior to an archdiocesan school official, who told her, “If the parents aren’t pushing it, let it go.” No one reported the incident to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Family Services. According to a later audit, this was one of several similar allegations or suspicions about McCormack brought to the archdiocese’s attention—and simply ignored—between 1999 and 2005.

McCormack, meanwhile, continued to put himself in close reach of children. He began teaching algebra and coaching basketball at Our Lady of the Westside School in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. In September 2003, the grandmother of an alleged abuse victim who played on McCormack’s basketball team called the archdiocese to complain about McCormack. Her allegation was not investigated, apparently because the vicar for priests mistakenly thought she wished to remain anonymous (although of course the archdiocese was more than capable of investigating either way). McCormack remained in ministry.

Then, in August 2005, McCormack was arrested for sexually abusing a child. He was eventually released without charges, although multiple detectives found the survivor to be credible. The archdiocese did not remove him from ministry, however; it later claimed this was because the authorities did not charge McCormack with a crime and because the archdiocese could not collect enough information to conduct its own review. Instead, the archdiocese allowed McCormack to continue living at Saint Agatha under “restrictions” forbidding him to be alone with children, to host them in the rectory, and to teach them in school. The archdiocese assigned another priest to “monitor” McCormack but neglected to explain the purpose of his assignment. No wonder McCormack was quick to flout these “restrictions.” He continued to teach classes at Our Lady of the Westside and even took three boys on an out-of-town trip when his monitor went away for a holiday weekend.

In October 2005, the archdiocese’s review board recommended McCormack’s removal from ministry. But Cardinal George demurred because the police had declined to charge him. Later, the review board would offer a pointed rebuke of the cardinal’s decision: “You chose not to act on [our recommendation], and we now have a situation that reflects very poorly, and unfairly, on the Board.” Board members also wrote they were “extremely dismayed that yet another claim of clerical sexual abuse of a minor has been brought to our attention, and that action was not taken in a timely manner.” Years later, Cardinal George would admit mistakes had been made. “I am very dismayed myself,” he said. “This is terrible that more precipitous action was not taken so I share that concern. I understand it and I share it as my own as well.”

As the mother of one survivor put it, “If Cardinal George [had] done the right thing, these other boys would not have been molested. [Instead], he just opened the door for [McCormack] to take advantage of other Black children.”

The additional claim to which the review board referred arose out of McCormack’s second arrest in January 2006. This time, he was charged with abusing five boys between the ages of 8 and 12 in the Saint Agatha rectory. The survivors were members of the basketball team McCormack coached and friends of his students at Our Lady of the Westside. McCormack pleaded guilty to all charges in July 2007 and was sentenced to five years in prison. But the impact of his abuse stretched far beyond the children who came forward in 2006.

And all the while, the warning signs were there for anyone to see. Seminary officials knew of multiple instances of abuse but did nothing to stop McCormack’s ordination. And when faced with McCormack’s arrest and a recommendation from his own review board to remove the disgraced priest from ministry, Cardinal George instead allowed McCormack to continue preying on vulnerable children in underserved neighborhoods on Chicago’s West Side. As the mother of one survivor put it, “If Cardinal George [had] done the right thing, these other boys would not have been molested. [Instead], he just opened the door for [McCormack] to take advantage of other Black children.”

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Terms are defined as provided in the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops Glossary of Catholic Terms, unless denoted with *.

Altar server
Individuals, usually children, who assist clerics during liturgical functions such as mass. Prior to 1994, only men and boys were permitted to be altar servers.*
The title given automatically to bishops who govern archdioceses. It is also given to certain other high-ranking church officials.
The chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province. It is governed by an archbishop.
Auxiliary Bishop
A bishop assigned to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist its residential bishop.
The highest order of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. The chief priests in their respective dioceses. Bishops are responsible for the pastoral care of their dioceses. All bishops have a responsibility to act in council with other bishops to guide the church.
A man who has taken vows in a religious order but is not ordained or studying for the priesthood. Sometimes he is called a lay brother to distinguish him from ordained members of religious orders.
Canon Law

A code of ecclesiastical laws governing the Catholic Church.

Highest-ranking Catholic clergy below the pope. Cardinals are regarded as the pope's closest advisors. Most cardinals are archbishops.
The chief archivist of a diocese's official records. Also a notary and secretary of the diocese’s central administration.
Clergy is a collective term referring to all those ordained—bishops, priests, and deacons—who administer the rites of the church. A cleric is an individual member of the clergy. Only men are permitted to join the clergy.
Confession or Reconciliation
The Catholic sacrament in which one makes a voluntary self-accusation of sins to a qualified priest in private in order to obtain absolution. The priest provides the confessor, also known as the penitent, with a penance to atone for sins committed. A priest who hears confession is forbidden from disclosing the contents of a confession to others under what is called the seal of confession.*
The personnel and offices through which (1) the pope administers the affairs of the universal church (the Roman Curia), or (2) a bishop administers the affairs of a diocese (the diocesan curia). The principal officials of a diocesan curia are the vicar general, the chancellor, officials of the diocesan tribunal or court, examiners, consultors, auditors, and notaries.
Dallas Charter
The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People sets forth policies for each United States archdiocese and diocese to adopt as part of an effort to address allegations of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. The Charter was formulated at the 2002 meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Dallas, Texas. The Charter was revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018.
One of three groups that comprise the clergy, meaning those ordained for ministry. Only men are permitted to become deacons. Deacons preparing for the priesthood are transitional deacons. Those not planning to be ordained priests are called permanent deacons. Married men may be ordained permanent deacons, but only unmarried men committed to lifelong celibacy can be ordained deacons if they are planning to become priests.
Diocesan Priest
Priests under the direction of their local bishop. Most serve in the parishes of the diocese, but they may also be assigned to other diocesan ministries or released for service outside the diocese.
A territorial division of the Church headed by a bishop.
Extern Priest
A priest with faculties to minister in a diocese or archdiocese who was not ordained in that diocese or archdiocese. For example, a diocesan priest from the Diocese of Springfield who has been granted faculties to minister by the Archdiocese of Chicago is an extern priest.*
Church authorization, given by the law itself or by a Church superior, to perform certain official acts.
Members of the Catholic Church. Derived from Catholic teachings that clergy are like shepherds guiding a flock.*
Laicize or Defrock
The process by which a priest is returned to the lay state. It is sometimes used as a penalty for a serious crime, but also can come at the request of the priest. A laicized priest is barred from all priestly ministry with one exception: He may give absolution to someone in immediate danger of death. The pope must approve all requests for laicization. When a priest is laicized without his consent for a crime, such as committing child sexual abuse, it is sometimes called defrocking.
Any activity conducive to the salvation of souls. It can include ordained ministry such as liturgical leadership and administration of the sacraments, or lay ministry such as instructing children in the faith, serving the poor, visiting the sick, or being an altar server, reader, or music leader at mass.
An honorary ecclesiastical title granted by the pope to some diocesan priests.
A member of a religious order of women who has taken solemn or simple vows.
Ordination is the sacramental ceremony in which a man becomes a deacon, priest, or bishop. A cleric who has undergone ordination is known as ordained.*
A specific community within a diocese with its own church building and under the authority of a pastor who is responsible for providing ministerial service. Most parishes are formed on a geographic basis, but they may be formed along national or ethnic lines.
A priest in charge of a Catholic parish or congregation.
Acts performed to atone for committed sins, as directed by a priest in the Catholic sacrament of reconcilliation.*
Residential housing for clergy provided by the Church. A rectory can also contain administrative offices for a parish.*
Religious Cleric
Professed member of a religious order or institute. Religious clergy live according to the rule of their respective orders.
Religious Order or Order
An institution of men or women, at least some of whose members take solemn vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and whose male members are sometimes ordained.*
An educational institution for men preparing for the priesthood.
A cleric who acts in the name of another cleric.*
Vicar general
A priest, auxiliary bishop, or coadjutor bishop who assists the diocesan bishop in the governance of the diocese.
Victims Assistance Coordinator

A diocesan employee who has been designated to coordinate assistance to survivors of sex abuse by clerics.*