A priest has been reinstated to a parish in the Lakeview neighborhood after an investigation concluded that an allegation of sexual misconduct against him "was unfounded," according to the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.
The Rev. Michael W. O'Connell stepped down as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish, 1429 W. Wellington Ave., in December after it was alleged that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor in the late 1990s while a pastor of an Orland Park church.
The archdiocese released a statement today saying the allegation was investigated by the Cook County sheriff's office, which "conducted an independent investigation and concluded that the allegation was unfounded."
In addition, the "Archdiocesan Independent Review Board. . .did not find reason to suspect that sexual abuse of a minor had occurred and recommended that Father O’Connell be returned to active ministry," the archdiocese said.
It said Cardinal Francis George has accepted the review board’s recommendation and O’Connell will return to St. Alphonsus on Thursday.
O'Connell, 57, spoke to reporters Tuesday after a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, saying he was grateful that due process brought justice and for everything “the cardinal extended to me today.”
When asked about the last four months, O’Connell said he spent a lot of time reading, praying and talking with his advisor and attorney. He also said “one always has moments of concern but I knew the truth; I knew that the Lord stood with me.”
O’Connell, who was accompanied by a representative from the archdiocese and spoke at the Holy Name rectory, said he found out Monday that the allegations were found unwarranted by the sheriff’s office. He said he looks forward to joining his parish for Easter services this weekend, which he hopes to lead.
“I look forward to being back with my people,” he said.
When asked about the accuser, O’Connell said he had never met him and didn’t know him, but when asked what he would say to him, O’Connell said: “I hope he finds peace in his life.”
The Cook County sheriff’s police released a brief statement saying its investigators "thoroughly investigated the allegation working with the state’s attorney’s office, and were unable to support any charges."
The single allegation of sexual misconduct was presented to the archdiocese in early December. It was alleged that O'Connell engaged in the misconduct in the late 1990s while he served as pastor of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park, the archdiocese said.
O'Connell had served in Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park from Aug. 1, 1997 until June 30, 2012 when he took over the Lakeview parish.
According to his biography on the St. Alphonsus Parish website, O'Connell was ordained on May 7, 1983.
He served as associate pastor at St. Michael Parish in Orland Park from 1983 until 1989, and associate pastor at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest from 1989 until 1993. From July, 1993 until August 1997 he engaged in doctoral studies in the Theology of Evangelization at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
He was born in Chicago and raised in the northwest suburbs, according to the website.
The archdiocese noted that O’Connell "patiently accepted the restrictions on his ministry" and added that the cardinal now welcomed him "to full participation in the life of the archdiocese as one of our priests in good standing."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun