Friday, June 07, 2024

Augustinian Catholic order paid $2 million settlement over rape accusations against priest but left his name off sex abuser list

The Catholic religious order won’t explain why the Rev. Richard McGrath, who was accused of sex abuse and having child pornography on his phone, isn’t on the group’s newly posted public listing.

After hiding the names of sexually abusive priests and religious brothers for years, the Augustinian Catholic order has posted its first public listing of clergy members in its Chicago province deemed to have been child predators, listing five men.

The list doesn’t include the Rev. Richard McGrath, who was the longtime head of Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox until he was ousted in 2017, after a student reported seeing a nude image of a boy on the priest’s cell phone while he was a spectator at a wrestling match.

The police investigated McGrath, but the case ended up being dropped after McGrath refused to cooperate and wouldn’t turn over his phone, which disappeared.

McGrath subsequently was accused in a lawsuit of having “repeatedly orally and anally” raped a student years earlier. The priest denied those accusations but refused to say when questioned under oath for a deposition whether he had ever viewed child pornography, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Church officials settled that suit with the accuser in late 2023 for $2 million but said they weren’t admitting any wrongdoing.

The Rev. Anthony Pizzo, who, with the title provincial, is the head of the Augustinians’ Chicago-based province that oversees Providence as well as St. Rita High School on the South Side and several out-of-state high schools, says in a written statement: “In determining whether an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is established, the Augustinians of the Midwest Province adhere to the canonical standard of moral certitude, meaning that the provincial recognizes that the contrary (that the allegation is false) may be possible, but is highly unlikely or so improbable, that the provincial has no substantive fear that the allegation is false.

“The allegations against Richard McGrath . . . were presented to the province’s Independent Review Board, which provided recommendations to the provincial on whether the allegations were established, per this definition.

“The board determined that the allegations against McGrath were not established. As such, his name is not listed among the other Augustinians who have established allegations against them.”

Pizzo wouldn’t speak with a reporter. McGrath couldn’t be reached.

Among those included on the list is the Rev. John D. Murphy, whom the Augustinians say was “dismissed from the province in 1993.”

The Chicago Sun-Times reported last year that more than a dozen people have settled legal claims with the order and the Archdiocese of Chicago, the arm of the church for Cook and Lake counties led by Cardinal Blase Cupich, over child sex abuse accusations against Murphy.

But Murphy has never been included on Cupich’s public listing of Catholic clergy members deemed to have been credibly accused of child sex abuse, which the archdiocese has described as comprehensive. The archdiocese’s top lawyer, James Geoly, represented the church in some of the long-ago lawsuits involving Murphy.

One of the accusers told the Sun-Times last year that he was a 10-year-old altar boy at St. Rita of Cascia Parish on the Southwest Side when he was molested by Murphy in the early 1980s.

“He’d take me in to his office in the rectory, put me on his lap and squeeze me and dry hump me till he got off,” the man said.

Murphy, who was never charged with any crime, has been living in West Dundee across from a Catholic parish and school.

Asked in a brief interview last year whether the accusations that he had abused children were true, Murphy told a Sun-Times reporter, “They’re not true in my mind.”

In a 2004 interview with the Chicago Tribune, the Rev. Jerome Knies, who was one of the order’s leaders and since has died, said of the accusations against Murphy: “We’re so very sorry that anything like this ever happened in the first place, and we sure don’t want it to happen again.”

It’s taken decades for the Augustinians to do what some Catholic dioceses, orders and other organizations started doing in 2002 as a new wave of the church sex abuse crisis exploded into public view: post public lists of clergy members they deemed to face credible accusations of sexual abuse. Some Catholic leaders said they were doing so to promote healing and to be transparent about the church’s role in allowing abuse to have gone on.

The cleric in charge of the province and also of the entire order worldwide for part of the time since then, Cardinal Robert Prevost, is a Chicago native who’s now a top Vatican official close to Pope Francis. Prevost hasn’t responded to requests for comment in recent years.

Attorney Marc Pearlman, whose client was involved in last year’s $2 million settlement, says there are several other out-of-court claims pending with the Augustinians.

In releasing the new list, the Chicago Augustinians said in a written statement that they were “profoundly sorrowful over the harm any minor has suffered as the result of sexual abuse perpetrated by any of our brothers.”

They also said, “There may very well be omissions to our list,” but said there could be “circumstances preventing allegations from being deemed established, such as where a legal case is pending or an investigation is in progress.”

Others on the Augustinians’ new list are:

  • Brother Mark Thedens, who died in 2003 and once taught Spanish and directed choir at St. Rita High School. He had other assignments in Olympia Fields and a parish in Gage Park on the South Side.

  • Frank Paduch, who had been an Augustinian brother teaching at St. Rita High School before moving to Texas and becoming a priest in a diocese in 1989. A 1997 lawsuit accused him of having molested a boy in Chicago in the early 1980s.

  • The Rev. Thomas Dullard and Rev. William A. Griffin, though details on those two priests weren’t available.

Pizzo won’t say why several others facing accusations aren’t on the new list.