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Survivor Narratives

Daniel Mark Holihan

The Archdiocese of Chicago had more than one chance to stop Father Daniel Holihan from sexually abusing young boys. Holihan was an active pastor in several Chicago parishes until 1990 and is now known as one of the more notorious abusers in archdiocesan history. The archdiocese knew what Holihan was doing to children years before it removed him from the pastorate—but during that time, it did nothing to stop him, taking him at his word that he could turn over a new leaf of his own accord. And even after Hoder resigned, archdiocesan officials sought to keep certain details quiet and established such lax control over his conduct that the priest was soon spotted socializing with children as if nothing had happened. More than a decade passed before the archdiocese finally decided to subject Holihan to strict monitoring. In the meantime, countless children had needlessly been put at risk.

Among the parish children, Holihan was apparently known as “Father Happy Hands.”

In July 1986—almost 30 years after Holihan was ordained a priest—the archdiocese received allegations that he had fondled children’s genitalia both over and under their clothing. The first report arrived from a fellow priest, who spoke to the vicar for priests about “rumors” he had heard from parishioners at Our Lady of the Snows in Chicago’s Garfield Ridge neighborhood, where Holihan was serving as pastor. These rumors concerned Holihan’s “relationships with young boys,” which included overnights to his family cottage. The principal of the parish school had also heard “periodic rumors” about Holihan’s abuse and recently had received specific information about an incident between the priest and two 12 year old altar servers.

Around the same time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin received a letter from an Our Lady of the Snows parishioner warning of “a very unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation.” The parishioner reported a friend’s son had just seen Holihan unzipping an altar server’s pants and fondling him—and her own sons had heard of other incidents as well. The parishioner further reported that a former nun and the parish’s emeritus pastor had known of Holihan’s abuse for years. Among the parish children, Holihan was apparently known as “Father Happy Hands.”

Despite all this evidence that Holihan was sexually abusing multiple children, the archdiocese’s records reflect no actual investigation or referral to law enforcement. Aside from a few phone calls, the vicar for priests did nothing more than meet with Holihan a few times. During the first meeting, Holihan explained he was a “hugger” and would take children to his cottage only if they requested it—but conceded only boys had stayed overnight. He blamed the “rumors” of abuse on “parents who are having trouble relating to their kids and resent his counseling them” along with “the subtle opposition of the pastor emeritus and a small group (6 people) who resent [Holihan] having taken his place as pastor.”

The vicar for priests met again with Holihan and this time asked him “to reflect on what aspects of his behavior might have been open to suspicion,” including “his physical contact with the children in hugging, rough-housing, etc.” The vicar “expressed the hope that [Holihan] could modify these behaviors without losing his interest in ministry to families and children in school.” The meeting ended with the vicar “strongly advis[ing]” Holihan to stop taking children to his cottage. The vicar checked in with Holihan about nine months later; he reported his satisfaction that Holihan had been “show[ing] caution in his dealings with children.” And that was the end of it—at least from the archdiocese’s perspective.

So it remained for three years—until the archdiocese was deluged with a flood of new allegations in the spring of 1990. This development prompted the archdiocese to start asking questions, which revealed further reports of Holihan’s abuse in prior years.

It all began in March 1990, when the principal of Our Lady of the Snows’ school received a phone call from a parent who said her son had seen Holihan rub another child’s thigh in his car as he drove them to breakfast after morning mass. Later that afternoon, the principal learned six additional boys had also accused Holihan of touching them inappropriately. As it turned out, a Chicago police officer had visited the school earlier that week to show a film urging students to “tell it to an adult—their parent, their teacher, their principal, or whoever” if they were “touched by anyone and it makes them feel uncomfortable.” This message gave the boys courage to speak up; previously, some said, they had been scared to report Holihan’s abuse because they worried they would get in trouble. One of the survivors referred to Holihan by the same nickname the archdiocese had first heard four years earlier—“Father Happy Hands.”

The principal, to his credit, promptly reported Holihan’s abuse to the Department of Children and Family Services. The state’s attorney also began an investigation; so did the archdiocese. Yet the vicar for priests did his best to keep quiet the alarming details he was learning about Holihan’s tenure at Our Lady of the Snows. The pastor emeritus reported a parish employee had twice found Holihan “in bed with a young boy.” The pastor thought the employee was “nutty as a bed-bug” and suspected the reason Holihan hadn’t fired her was “to make sure that she doesn’t ever talk”; if she were to “blab,” the pastor warned, “this could blow the whole thing up in our faces.” After hearing this, the vicar for priests talked to the pastor emeritus “at length about the importance of him not making any comments to anyone regarding the case” and cautioned “he should not make reference to the rumors that have been circulating for the last 10 years, etc.” Archdiocesan officials do not appear to have interviewed the parish employee who caught Holihan in the act—or told law enforcement what she knew. Somehow, though, the vicar for priests seemed surprised when he was told parish parents were concerned “all of this will be just swept under the rug” by the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, Holihan kept seeing children—apparently undaunted by the pending investigations. A parish administrator told the vicar for priests “one of the boys who is attached to Mark wanted to visit him” and “other children have also been seen visiting him.” He was also seen “with some high school boys” at a local mall. The vicar wrote he “was astonished that Mark would take such risks at a time like this and put himself into such jeopardy” by “allowing minor children to come and go.” But the vicar took no action to prevent Holihan’s fraternizing with young boys. And when the Department of Children and Family Services completed its investigation in June 1990 and confirmed that credible evidence supported the sexual abuse allegations against Holihan, the vicar wrote defiantly to Cardinal Bernardin: “I am sure that DCFS would expect us to remove Mark from contact with minor children, but that, of course, is our decision, not theirs to make.”

Around the same time, the state’s attorney opted not to indict Holihan. An assistant state’s attorney told Our Lady of the Snows parishioners “it was our decision not to put the children through any court process, because we feel that our goal can be achieved without doing that.” In a letter, the archdiocese’s attorney thanked the same assistant state’s attorney “again for your cooperation with the archdiocese in its efforts to minimize the negative impact on the parish of the accusations against Father Holihan.” A few weeks later, the archdiocese received another report of Holihan being at a local mall with a high school boy.

In July 1990, Holihan agreed to resign. In a goodbye letter to his parish, he complained he “felt like the biblical leper.” The archdiocese did not remove Holihan from all ministry, however; nor did it require his movements to be strictly monitored. Even so, it continued to receive reports of Holihan’s associating with children. For example, in June 1991, a parishioner was waiting for a train to pass when she spotted Holihan in the car directly behind her with two young boys. She reported the disgraced priest was “doing a little horsing around. He would lean over towards the one, poke him, and just play around.” It does not appear the archdiocese took any action in response. To the contrary, a few months later, the vicar for priests suggested “we should go a little easier on Mark since the nature of his children’s abuse was not overly gross.” The vicar sought to downplay the “12 occasions” when Holihan “was accused and called guilty of fondling children” by noting “[t]he fondling took place through the clothes of children and often occurred with adults around.”

Around this time, Holihan began to work part-time as an associate pastor at Saint Jerome in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. He was allowed to interact with the public but told not to associate with children; the archdiocese didn’t monitor him, however, to ensure compliance with its instruction. A few years later, Holihan was assigned to the parish’s baptism program. In 1992, the archdiocese became aware had signed up to be a prayer partner and confirmation sponsor for a parish boy. Memos by the vicar for priests show the archdiocese accepted Holihan’s assurances that the boy’s parents “know Mark’s situation and his past history.” “Just from his attitude it seems to me that there is no difficulty here,” the vicar wrote, adding that Holihan “was very cooperative and I have no reason to think that there is any difficulty in this Confirmation relationship.”

As the years went on, the archdiocese received more and more allegations of child sex abuse by Holihan from his time as a pastor. Only in 2005—almost 15 years after Holihan was removed from Our Lady of the Snows—did Cardinal Francis George remove Holihan’s faculties and place him under “a strict monitoring protocol which will allow the archdiocese to make sure that Father Holihan is not in any way in contact with children.” As the cardinal observed in his decree, “[t]he accusations are so numerous against Father Holihan and the descriptions of the actions are so clear that there can be no doubt that Father Holihan is guilty” of abusing children. Holihan was confined to a nursing home in Palatine and forbidden to wear priestly garb or represent himself as a priest.

Still, the allegations of past child sex abuse continued to roll in. When the archdiocese hired an outside investigator for Holihan’s case, the priest refused to speak with him. In September 2008, Cardinal George ordered Holihan to move to a Catholic treatment center in Missouri. This prompted Holihan to seek laicization from the clergy. No longer under church control, he moved back to his cottage—the same residence where he had been accused so many times of abusing young boys.

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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.*