By Megan Crepeau, Contact Reporter, Chicago Tribune
A Cook County judge on Friday found a disgraced former priest who was convicted a decade ago of molesting five young boys to be a sexually violent person, a decision that could keep him housed indefinitely in a state facility for sex offenders.
Judge Dennis Porter said he believed a “substantial probability” existed that Daniel McCormack, 48, would reoffend if released from custody.
“I think it is much more likely than not that, without treatment, you will commit further acts of sexual violence,” Porter told McCormack at the conclusion of a three-day trial.
The allegations against McCormack by more than two dozen boys and young men dating as far back as the early 1990s made him a notorious figure in Chicago’s part of the nationwide clergy sex abuse scandal.
The Archdiocese of Chicago has paid out millions of dollars in settlements to McCormack victims, and eight lawsuits are still pending. The church is selling off unused real estate because its insurance no longer covers such legal costs.
Porter’s ruling marked a victory for prosecutors who argued that McCormack poses too much of a danger to go free.
“He’s driven, he’s devious, he abused multiple victims over the years,” Assistant Attorney General Mary Lacy said in closing arguments earlier Friday. “He couldn’t be stopped, Judge. He’s like a runaway train.”
Hearing today on whether ex-priest who molested boys should be locked up indefinitely
McCormack’s designation as a sexually violent person means he could be indefinitely committed to an Illinois Department of Human Services facility in downstate Rushville or released to the community under strict conditions. A hearing to determine his fate will be conducted by Porter in November.
In the meantime, McCormack will continue to live at the secure facility in Rushville, where he has been detained since the state filed its petition to designate him a sexually violent person shortly before he was eligible for parole in 2009.
McCormack remained still and quiet at the defense table throughout the sparsely attended proceedings, occasionally leaning forward to write neat lines of notes on a pad of paper.
The trial hinged on the competing testimonies of two doctors, both of whom examined McCormack’s history and diagnosed him with pedophilic disorder. However, the doctors reached different conclusions about the likelihood that McCormack would reoffend.
A forensic psychiatrist who evaluated McCormack for the state Attorney General’s office testified Wednesday that the ex-priest likely would continue to molest young boys if released to the community.
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“Pedophilic disorder is a very pervasive disorder,” said Dr. Angeline Stanislaus. “If you have a deviant sexual interest in boys, it is present pretty much throughout your life.”
Stanislaus noted that McCormack continued to act inappropriately even after he was questioned by police in 2005 about abuse allegations. McCormack was not immediately charged after that allegation came to light, but his church superiors assigned a monitor to watch his activities.
The stress of those events may even have compelled him to abuse boys more frequently in an attempt to cope, Stanislaus said.
“Even after he was arrested by the police (and) questioned, his superiors came to learn about it, he was placed on specific supervision … in spite of all these things he continued to molest children, continued to molest new victims,” she testified.
McCormack’s defense team noted that Stanislaus’ evaluation was conducted after an Illinois Department of Corrections expert concluded McCormack did not meet the criteria to be committed as a sexually violent person.
In addition, psychologist Dr. Raymond Wood evaluated McCormack in 2010 and 2011 on behalf of the Department of Human Services and reached the same conclusion.
Wood, testifying Thursday for the defense, acknowledged he had diagnosed McCormack with pedophilic disorder as well as a personality disorder, but he said the former priest was not “substantially probable” to reoffend and hence did not meet the requirements of the state law to be committed indefinitely.
McCormack’s attorneys noted in closing arguments Friday that there were no allegations that the ex-priest abused anyone while he was out on bond before pleading guilty to sexual abuse charges. If he were released, said attorney Matthew Daniels, he would be subject to similar sanctions as a registered sex offender.
“The criminal justice system is always going to be hanging over Mr. McCormack for the rest of his life,” Daniels said. “He’s not going to be in a school. … He’s not likely to be a coach, either.”
McCormack’s lawyers also contended that Stanislaus’ evaluation gave inappropriate weight to factors beyond what could be measured with scientific risk-assessment tools, implying that her conclusion was based on “emotional and visceral responses.”
“You can think someone is a bad guy and still look at the information in a professional manner like Dr. Wood did, and use the science in the way that it was created to be used,” Daniels said.
McCormack declined to cooperate with the evaluations, so the doctors relied on voluminous records from the police and the archdiocese, among other sources.
McCormack had pleaded guilty in 2007 to sexually abusing five boys and was sentenced to five years in prison. He was later removed from the priesthood.
Court records show some 25 boys and young men have alleged McCormack molested them in their youth, most notably at St. Agatha Parish on Chicago’s West Side, where the young priest coached basketball, taught algebra and delivered eloquent sermons.
The allegations ranged from inappropriate kissing and touching to sexual assault, and dated back as far as the early 1990s. According to the court records, one boy said McCormack abused him on the way back from basketball practice, another in the basement of the rectory and still another during the fourth inning of a White Sox game.
For those confined at the Rushville facility, few win their freedom again. From 2013 to 2016, just 11 were officially discharged. About 40 more were put on conditional release in the community.
As of early 2016, the Chicago Archdiocese said it has paid out a total of $139 million in clerical sexual abuse claims, but it has declined to release the total for the McCormack settlements. So far this year alone, though, the church has agreed to pay more than $7.5 million to settle lawsuits brought by men alleging abuse by McCormack, according to attorneys for those men.