The Archdiocese of Chicago says it has learned from its mishandling of sex abuse allegations against a priest accused of fondling five young boys.
An independent auditor issued a litany of recommendations to overhaul the way the nation's third-largest archdiocese handles sex abuse complaints and Cardinal Francis George even apologized for his actions -- or lack thereof -- about the rumors surrounding the Rev. Daniel McCormack.
But after McCormack, 38, pleaded guilty Monday and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison, critics said the deal spared the archdiocese embarrassing testimony about mismanagement and foot-dragging in the case.
''The dirty secrets of the diocese remain hidden and secret and that's disappointing,'' said Barbara Blaine, president and founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
McCormack pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse for abusing five boys between the ages of 8 and 12 while he served as parish priest at St. Agatha Catholic Church. A pale, subdued McCormack, who also was an algebra teacher and boys' basketball coach at the nearby Our Lady of the Westside School, told Judge Thomas Sumner he understood the charges against him and the consequences of pleading guilty, but declined to make a statement.
The plea deal prosecutors reached with McCormack was a ''no brainer'' because it was at the high end of the sentencing maximum of three to seven years and spared the boys the pain of testifying, said Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Boliker.
But McCormack's plea also halted the possibility of humiliating testimony for the archdiocese, which has drawn intense criticism over its handling of the case.
McCormack was not removed from the West Side parish and school until he first was charged in January 2006 -- several months after one of the allegations was made against him.
Cardinal Francis George told St. Agatha parishioners after McCormack was charged that he should have pushed harder to find out details about the allegations against McCormack and also to communicate to parents the steps taken by the church. He launched an eight-month internal church investigation that found procedures for removing priests from the ministry were ''far from perfect.''
George has instructed his staff to begin the process to remove McCormack from the priesthood, the archdiocese said Monday.
''The sexual abuse of children is a sin and a crime,'' George said in a statement. ''When the abuser is a priest, the whole church is affected. Such misconduct by a priest or anyone else associated with the archdiocese cannot be tolerated.''
The archdiocese has learned from the McCormack case, said Chancellor Jimmy Lago.
''In the months since we learned of this case, we have evaluated our processes and undertaken new initiatives to safeguard children,'' Lago said in a statement.
Attorney Marc Pearlman, who represented several of the victims, said the plea was important for the boys to heal, but he decried the church's ''culture of concealment and secrecy.''
''It would've been nice to see all the information go public,'' Pearlman said.
McCormack's defense attorneys declined to comment as they left the courthouse.
Some of the accusations dated back to 2001. Chicago police took McCormack into custody and investigated an accusation against him in August 2005, but then released him, saying there was not enough evidence to pursue the case.
McCormack was not charged or removed as pastor until after the school's principal, Barbara Westrick, informed police, the archdiocese and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services of allegations one boy made to her in January 2006.
Westrick learned last month that the archdiocese would not renew her contract. She alleged Monday that the archdiocese handled allegations against McCormack differently because her school was in a poor neighborhood with mostly black students.
The victims ''were abandoned by the archdiocese. I do believe that,'' Westrick said.