Clergy sex abuse: Ex-priest Daniel McCormack seeks to seal records in commitment battle

State says he is likely to commit another sex crime; officials want to extend his incarceration

Chicago Tribune/October 20, 2009

Attorneys representing a convicted former priest moved on Monday to keep private most of the court proceedings and seal the records related to an effort to have him committed under a state statute for sex offenders.

Under the Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, the Illinois attorney general and the Cook County state's attorney filed a joint petition last month to have Daniel McCormack confined to a state treatment facility. The law allows prosecutors to seek continued incarceration if a psychological exam leads them to believe another sex crime is likely if the inmate goes free.

Last month, a forensic psychiatrist diagnosed McCormack with pedophilia and recommended civil commitment, a recommendation attached to the joint petition.

Citing details in that publicized report, defense attorney Daniel Coyne, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, asked Judge Dennis Porter to seal records going forward and hear testimony about McCormack's mental health behind closed doors.

"Continued dissemination of the respondent's past crimes, current mental state, mental health history and psychiatric diagnosis to the Cook County jury pool will pose a serious and imminent threat to the fairness of the commitment proceedings," the motion said.

Prosecutors declined to respond to the motions before the next hearing date Nov. 4.

Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, objected to the defense team's efforts to keep part of the proceedings private, saying McCormack gave up his claims to privacy "when he chose to molest boys and devastate young lives."

Officials with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago declined to comment on Monday's proceedings but reiterated that McCormack was removed from the priesthood in 2007 by Vatican decree.

Mark Heyrman, clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago, said that if civil commitment is not considered extra punishment for the crimes committed, McCormack has a right to request protection.

"In my view, there aren't any good reasons why this hearing should be open to the public if the defendant doesn't want it open," he said. "Why do we need to know what's going on in the actual hearing? The fact that it's public may affect the outcome."

McCormack, 40, pleaded guilty in July 2007 to abusing five boys and was sentenced to five years in prison.

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