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Archdiocese outlines process investigating misconduct allegation

  • Written by Tim Hadac

  Archdiocesan officials confirmed this week that they are investigating an allegation of sexual misconduct made against the Rev. Michael W. O’Connell, 56, who served as pastor of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park from 1997-2012.
  At issue is behavior that allegedly occurred nearly two decades ago at Our Lady of the Woods, officials said.
  O’Connell previously served at St. Michael Parish in Orland Park from 1983-89, where he was part of a team that helped establish Our Lady of the Woods.
  He currently is on leave as pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish on Chicago’s North Side. According to the Rev. Shawn Gould, administrator of that parish, O’Connell “denies this allegation.”
  The full text of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s statement reads:
  “Rev. Michael W. O’Connell has agreed to step aside from St. Alphonsus Parish in Chicago, following receipt earlier this week by the Archdiocese of Chicago, of an allegation that he engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor almost 20 years ago while at his previous parish. Fr. O’Connell has agreed to take this action at the request of Cardinal George and is doing so out of pastoral concern for the safety of children.
  “The allegation was received by the Archdiocesan Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review and reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and the Cook County State’s Attorney. In compliance with the requirements of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Archdiocese has also begun its investigation of this matter.
  “This action is not a judgment of guilt. Fr. O’Connell remains, according to church law, the pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish; however, he has agreed to reside away from the parish until the investigation is concluded.
  “The abuse of any child is a crime and a sin. As always, the safety of children is of paramount importance. The Archdiocese of Chicago takes all allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and encourages anyone who feels they have been sexually abused by a priest, deacon, religious or lay employee, to come forward. Complete information about reporting clerical sexual abuse can be found on the Archdiocesan website at archchicago.org.”
  Archdiocesan Media Relations Director Susan Burritt told The Regional News on Monday that while the investigation is well under way, there is no rush to judgment and no way to predict exactly how long it will take.
  “It will take as long as it takes until a decision is made,” Burritt said, adding that the Archdiocesan website is “a treasure trove” of information that, among other things, clearly outlines the process of how such investigations are conducted.
  According to information posted on the website, “the Independent Review Board (Review Board) is advisory to the Cardinal concerning matters of allegations of the sexual abuse of minors against clergy of the Archdiocese of Chicago who are in good standing (i.e. active or retired). The Review Board consists of nine to 11 individuals who are appointed by the Archbishop. Six of the Review Board members are lay Catholics who are not employees of the church and represent one of each of the following backgrounds: a psychiatrist, a psychologist or social worker, an attorney, a parish council member, a parent, and a victim/survivor or parent of victim/survivor of child sexual abuse. Three of the members are clerics of this archdiocese (two priests and one deacon). The Archbishop, in consultation with the Review Board, may appoint one or two additional lay Catholics who shall be considered at large members.
  “The role of the Review Board is to provide determinations and recommendations to the Archbishop regarding the fitness of ministry for clerics accused of sexual misconduct with a minor, based upon the standard of safety for children.”
  Burritt encouraged everyone with relevant information about any situation regarding sexual abuse of children to report it promptly to authorities, including the Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review at (312) 534-5205.
  DCFS spokesperson Karen Hawkins told The Regional News on Monday that her agency is prohibited from commenting on the situation because it does not yet meet criteria of the state’s Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act — most notably that O’Connell has not been charged with a crime by the Cook County State’s Attorney.
  DCFS describes itself as an agency that “receives, investigates and acts upon a report of child abuse or neglect every five minutes and child sex abuse every two hours,” primarily via its hotline, 1-800-252-2873.
  Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has not yet responded to a request for comment.
  Archdiocesan conduct in the case has been criticized by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), a group that bills itself as “an independent, confidential network of survivors of religious sexual abuse and their supporters.”
  A statement posted on SNAP’s website reads: “Despite promises to be ‘open’ in clergy sex cases, Cardinal Francis George is not disclosing where Fr. O’Connell is now. SNAP believes he should be put in a remote, secure, independent treatment center so that kids will be safe. According to church policy, Fr. O’Connell should be suspended, not allowed to ‘voluntarily’ step aside (which minimizes his alleged crimes and enables more parishioners to assume he’s innocent).”
  The response from Our Lady of the Woods Parish has been low key, with the only formal mention of the investigation contained in a three sentence post-script to the Pastor’s Notes page in the church’s current weekly bulletin.
  “In response to the letter I read from the Archdiocese regarding an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor made against Father Mike O’Connell, I would remind people that any notes or cards to Father Mike should go through Our Lady of the Woods,” wrote the Rev. Michael G. Foley, pastor. “Please keep all who are wounded in your prayers and remember that the investigation has just begun and will take time. No judgments should be made.”

Hickory Hills resident says power washing could pollute water system

  • Written by Kelly White

  A Hickory Hills resident made an unusual claim that power washing vehicles could be harmful to the city’s water.
  And he was backed up by at least one city council member last Thursday.
  Gil Marek of South 79th Avenue addressed the Hickory Hills City Council on what he said is a dangerous pollution matter taking place within his own neighborhood.
  Marek said his neighbor, living directly across the street from Marek’s residence, is constantly fixing up old trucks, cars and camper trailers and he is concerned about the water being used to pressure wash these vehicles going into the Hickory Hills storm sewer system.
  “Now, I don’t want to be a snitch, but some of the cars and trucks they are repairing are over 60 years old, and I am worried about all of the oil, grease and dust going into the drain system,” he said.
  Councilman Tom McAvoy publicly agreed with Marek’s claim and said that he had a similar problem in his ward years ago. McAvoy said that the vehicles should not be parked on or worked on at a place of residence.
  Marek said he contacted the Hickory Hills Police Department upon the neighbor power washing a truck at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night five weeks ago.
  “The police came to my house and told me there was nothing they could do about the situation,” Marek said. “I would of felt more reassured if they would have taken the time to go over to my neighbor’s house and at least confront them on the power washing issue but they did not.”
  The Clean Water Act prohibits a point source discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States without a permit. Since many pressure washer operators are mobile, it is not realistic to pre-determine discharge locations and obtain permits for each location. Additionally, most permitted process water discharges require treatment and analysis of the discharge, which may not be practical for many pressure washers.
  The most common method of compliance with the CWA is to prevent process wastewater discharges to waters of the United States. If a discharge does not reach waters of the United States, then there are no requirements under the CWA. Examples of compliance without a discharge are vacuuming up the process wastewater and allowing it to evaporate. An additional method of compliance is to discharge the water to permitted sanitary sewer systems. CWA officials say the most common form of non-compliance is to discharge the process water into a storm sewer system or into a city street that drains to a storm water inlet.
  “When they are rebuilding vehicles and using a power washer and allowing it to empty into the storm sewer system, this becomes a huge pollution matter and there are EPA regulations being ignored,” Marek said.
  Washing vehicles is an example of a process water discharge of pollutants requiring a permit if it reaches waters of the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that companies or individuals take their vehicles to car washes.
  Marek told the council he has no conflicts with his neighbor, other than the water pollution taking place. He feels using a home for reconstructing vehicles is not the proper place for that type of activity.
  “Sometimes, there will be power washing going on close to midnight, even if it is the weekend, that is still way too late and too much noise, aside from the pollution,” Marek said, “Not to mention, there are tools all over the driveway and front yard. It is just a dangerous situation and that type of work should not be going on at a place of residence.”

Assembly line of goodwill helps Worth’s poor

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

  It resembled an assembly line.

  It was a well-oiled machine.
  They have it down to a science.
  And why not? They’ve had more than 60 years to perfect it.
  The hundreds of volunteers of the Worth Marrs-Meyer American Legion Post 991 held its annual holiday food drive Sunday morning. More than 80 families received food, clothes or toys thanks to the Legion with an assist from the Worth Lions Club.
  At about 8 a.m., the Legion’s hall was filled with items, making it look like a grocery store.
  It didn’t take long for volunteers to put the groceries in numbered boxes — mostly boxes that formerly housed bottles and cans of beer — and have them ready for dozens of other volunteers to put in their vehicles for deliveries to underprivileged families.
  Within an hour, the hall looked like a ghost town and the assembly line was in full gear on a freezing Sunday morning. At one point, the beer boxes were stacked higher than the size of even some of the taller volunteers.
  Bethanne Lode, a co-chair of the event, said this year was challenging.
  “We do two drives — one near Thanksgiving and one near Christmas,” she said. “This year, Thanksgiving was a week later than it usually is and we had just three weeks to get ready for the Christmas drive. But as you can see, our volunteers have once again done a great job getting this together.”
  The group has had plenty of practice keeping this event efficient.
  Ask any volunteer how long this drive has been going on and you might get a number of different answers. The line “as long as I can remember” seemed to be the most popular answer.
  “I’ve been doing this since I was six,” Lode said. “That’s 44 years.”
  Another theory is that it started in the late 1940s, when the post started up.
  “There was a time when there were 20 or 30 families and I would deliver everything,” said Terry Mahaffay, who said he’s been at it more than 50 years. “You put everything in a van and then go. It’s changed a lot.’’
  Co-chairman Mary Frestel has been at her position for 14 years and enjoys what she is doing.
  “Helping the families of Worth is something that I like to do,” she said. “They appreciate it. They need it. They need it during Christmas and Thanksgiving.”

Will Worth and Ridge tag-team for centennial parade?

  • Written by Bob Rakow

  Both Worth and Chicago Ridge turn 100 in 2014 and plans are underway for celebrations in both communities however plans for a joint parade in the summer are unclear. 

  Chicago Ridge officials are all for it.
  Worth officials are not sure at this early juncture.
  “There were a lot of concerns,” Worth Mayor Mary Werner said. “It’s a long parade.”
  A joint parade with Chicago Ridge would step off on Ridgeland Avenue near Birmingham Street and proceed to 111th Street where it would head into Worth and end near village hall.
  Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar favors a joint centennial parade.
  “I’m old enough to remember the last one we did with Worth,” said Tokar, recalling the parade held to celebrate the communities’ 75th anniversaries.
  Tokar said he supports celebrating a milestone date with a neighboring community. He added that joining the resources of the towns would result in a better parade with more popular entries.
  Perhaps the first order of business for organizers of Worth’s centennial celebration, however, is to determine the correct date of the village incorporation.
  Village officials were “99.9 percent certain” that Oct. 8 was the official date, but the actual date may be Aug. 29, according to the secretary of state’s office and state archives, Werner said.
  The correct date is important because the village wants to have a 100-day countdown as part of its celebration.
  The village board on Tuesday approved an ordinance that formally creates a centennial celebration committee.
  “We have to make it official,” said Werner, who became part of village history in April when she was elected Worth’s first female mayor.
  Werner met informally in November with the 25 from individuals who will serve on the centennial committee.
  “Everyone is very enthusiastic,” she said. “I got a very good response.”
  The committee, which is made up of representatives from the village, library, park district, schools and various community organizations, will meet on Jan. 6 to begin planning the celebration.
  Plans call for the village to have a monthly event to celebrate the centennial leading up to Worth Days, the annual summer festival that celebrates the founding of the village.
  The village and park district are close to finalizing an agreement that will transfer control of Worth Days to the park district. Village officials agreed that planning of the fest, which begins in February, was too taxing on village staff, and the park district is better equipped to organize the fest.
  The various community organizations that make up the centennial committee each would be responsible for a monthly celebration, Werner said.
  The village will not use taxpayer dollars to fund the celebration. Rather, fundraising, including the sale of banners, will pay for the festivities, the mayor said.
  Meanwhile, approximately 30 people have volunteered to serve on the Chicago Ridge centennial committee. The village celebrates its centennial on Sept. 1.
  “(Planning) takes a lot of time,” Tokar said. “Having 30 people involved is a huge plus.”
  Chicago Ridge will celebrate its centennial with an April 12 dinner dance at the Glendora House and a community festival in September that will that reflects games and recreation popular a century ago, such as an old-time photo booth; watermelon, hot dog and pie-eating contests; horseshoe pitching and children’s games played in early 1900s.
  The village will sponsor a fire hydrant painting contest, the release of a village history book and a community cook book. The celebration also will feature an 8th grade essay contest and open a time capsule buried 25 years ago at the old village hall and bury a new one, Tokar said.

Streit demands details

  • Written by Bob Rakow

Minor accident involving OL village manager raises questions from trustee

  It’s rare that a one-car accident that did not involve injuries, alcohol or other suspicious circumstances would generate much attention, but such is not the case when the driver is the Oak Lawn village manager.

  Larry Deetjen was involved in a minor accident last Thursday near Southwest Highway and Route 83 in Palos Park in which he drove a village-owned Crown Victoria into a ditch after attempting to make a U-turn, according to police reports. The accident occurred at about 9:15 p.m. The only damage suffered was to the undercarriage of the car.
  Two days later, Oak Lawn Trustee Robert Streit arrived at the Palos Park police station and requested copies of reports pertaining to the accident involving a village of Oak Lawn official. Streit said that since Deetjen was driving a village-owned vehicle, he should have been given blood alcohol tests.
  Streit was told the report was not accessible that night. He was given Freedom of Information Act forms and told he would need to contact the police department on Monday.
  Streit told police he became aware of an accident “involving a person in a management position with the village of Oak Lawn through dispatchers who had contacted him,” according to reports.
  The veteran trustee said he was told that Deetjen was picked up at the scene by Oak Lawn Police Chief Mike Murray. Both Deetjan and Murray deny the chief was on the scene.
  Streit said he received several calls from Oak Lawn emergency dispatchers who asked about the details of the accident and were seeking “justice.” He said “sometimes incidents like these can easily disappear” and wanted to make sure that did not happen, police said.
  “I didn’t believe the things I was hearing,” Streit said Tuesday. “They all seemed incredulous. I really have a duty to be aware of what’s taking place.”
  Streit criticized Deetjen for failing to inform the village trustees of the accident. He said he was not notified nor was Trustee Carol Quinlan. Other trustees may have been told, he said.
  Streit has opposed Deetjen on several controversial issues over the past few months. He also has participated in imbroglios with Mayor Sandra Bury. Streit was an ally of former Mayor Dave Heilmann, who was defeated by Bury in April.
  For example, the village board on Nov. 26 voted 4-2 to privatize Oak Lawn’s 911 dispatch services, a move that could save the village $1 million over two years, said Deetjen, who recommended the move.
  Streit, who voted against the decision, was a vocal critic of the outsourcing plan as well as other recommendations made by Deetjen and Bury, such as cuts to balance the 2014 budget and transferring control of the senior center to the park district.
  Ron Cicinelli, an attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, the union the represents the dispatchers, was unaware that dispatchers contacted Streit.
  Deetjen’s minor accident also caught the attention of a blog that has been highly critical of the village manager for many years.
  One day after Streit visited the Palos Park police station, the Florida-based blog implied that Deetjen’s accident may have been DUI related. The blog has frequently ripped Deetjen since he was the village manager in Deerfield Beach, Fla.
  Deetjen was not arrested nor did he receive a citation, according to Palos Park Police Chief Joe Miller.
  Deetjen would not comment on the motivations behind Streit’s actions or the blog post.
  Deetjen told police he was looking at land related to a property matter in Oak Lawn and missed the driveway on Southwest Highway. He said he was not familiar with area at night. When he made the U-turn, the car went into a ditch in the 11900 block of Southwest Highway, according to reports.
  Deetjen said he walked to the nearby CVS Pharmacy with his wife, a passenger in the car, and contacted Oak Lawn Public Works, who picked up the car. He also called for a ride home from CVS, according to reports.
  Streit wondered why Deetjen did not stay with the car and call police.
  “What did Larry do? Larry left the scene,” said Streit, who believes Deetjen should be cited for leaving the scene of an accident.
  A witness saw the car in the ditch as he was driving on Southwest Highway. He saw Deetjen and a woman exit the car, stopped and asked if they were all right, police said. Deetjen confirmed that he and his wife were all right and that we would call a tow truck. Deetjen did not speak to Palos Park police until 11:06 p.m., reports said.