Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Findings and Solutions: The Report

As Thomas posted yesterday, Cardinal George released a statement on the status of the investigation regarding what went wrong in the Fr. MacCormack case. The Cardinal’s letter was accompanied by a letter from his Chancellor, Jimmy Lago, and a public release of the entire report of an independent investigation done by Dallas based investigators, Defenbaugh and Associates. The report appears scathing on the surface but it also makes it clear that it focused only on what went wrong. That is, it identifies solely the problems found and does not try to contextualize these problems in an overall assessment of the program.

In all, the report identifies 33 separate items for which the independent investigators recommended remedial actions to be taken. The most serious were two cases in which Archdiocesan employees violated state reporting statutes. There were three in all but one was past the statute of limitations. These failures to report occurred in the office of the Vicar of Priests and the Office of Catholic Schools.

Many of the items were recommendations for correcting or improving administrative processes. However, as one could guess would be the case gleaning details from the fragmentary reporting from the MSM, the report identified a great need for improving training for mandatory reporting positions. The offices which turn up in the report most often as having had information available that could have aided in decision making at some point in time were the offices of the Vicar of Priests and the Office of Catholic Schools. In fact, the primary cause for the late removal of Fr. MacCormack from his parish seems to have been associated with personnel from these two offices.

In general, there was a failure to share information and to document it in such a way that it was retrievable and available for decision making. In line with our previous position, the report seems to substantiate the Cardinal when he declared that he made his decision not to remove Fr. MacCormack based upon the premise that the priest had no adverse background except for the August 2005 arrest that had resulted in no charges being filed and came with no further information about the case.

Another major finding, as we suspected, was that the monitoring system was not adequately implemented. In fact, the Archdiocese had a separate investigation of this process by Community Corrections consultant, Terry B. Childers. He had seven major findings with recommendations. He found that although the Archdiocese made a good faith effort to implement a monitoring policy, because it did not take into account the character of child predators it was insufficient. It relied too much on assuming the priests being monitored could be trusted. In the case of Fr. MacCormack, because the monitoring procedures were not adequately defined, the monitoring priest did not clearly understand his role and the Vicar of Priests did not do a sufficient job of keeping up with the monitor. This led to Fr. MacCormack being able to take three children to Minnesota while his monitor was away for Christmas.

To his credit, the Cardinal takes full responsibility for the failures of his people and promises that the recommendations will be implemented. Throughout this affair the Cardinal has been completely forthright and never made excuses. He immediately began the investigation and has not quibbled with the findings or the recommendations. Gauging from those who have reported on it, he obviously takes this situation very seriously.

He is not infallible, but from all available evidence has done the reasonable thing but when that was not good enough he commits himself to correcting it. Nevertheless for those predisposed to suspicion, for those dissenters who wish to capitalize on this tragedy to push their anti-ecclesial agenda, for those who make their living with rumors and the appearance of intrigue, I am sure that this will not silence them. However, for those who recognize Cardinal George as an honest, conscientious, caring pastor of souls, his apologies will be accepted and trust will be given that these hard lessons have helped to make children in Chicago a bit safer.