I knew Vince McCaffery.
He was an associate pastor at Our Lady of Loretto in Hometown around the same time my family joined the parish.
We moved in 1979 from St. Thomas More parish on Chicago’s Southwest Side to Evergreen Park and joined Our Lady of Loretto in neighboring Hometown.
My old and new and neighborhoods were only a few miles apart, but to a 15-year- old they seemed a world apart. To meet new people, I joined the parish teen group and teen choir at Our Lady of Loretto.
McCaffery arrived at the parish in 1979 as well. I did not know him well, as the teen group was run by another priest at the parish, the Rev. Tom McNeff, one of the finest priests I’ve ever known. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago. McNeff understood youth ministry and played a big part in my development as a Catholic.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for McCaffery, who was defrocked in 2010 and is serving time in prison after being convicted of child porn charges in 2002.
The kicker is that Cardinals Joseph Bernardin and John Cody allowed him to remain in ministry and move from one parish to the next as allegations of abuse surfaced. McCaffrey ultimately admitted to molesting more than a dozen victims.
I’ve thought about McCaffery after the Archdiocese of Chicago released more than 6,000 pages of information that details allegations of abuse against 30 priests that occurred over the past several decades.
I don’t recall hearing any rumors about McCaffery and pornography or sex abuse when I was at Our Lady of Loretto. I do remember talk that he had a drinking problem and that was the reason he was transferred two years after he arrived.
I read several pages of the testimony offered by McCaffery’s victims, which was given more than 10 years ago. The details are sickening. The boys who testified were adolescents at the time of the abuse, and I couldn’t help but wonder if knew them or their families.
Hometown is a small community and Our Lady of Loretto is a close-knit parish. I can’t imagine what it was like for a young boy to carry the shameful secret that the associate pastor molested him.
McCaffery, who I recall as friendly and outgoing, gained his victims trust and got to know their families by spending time at their homes. One victim said McCaffery never used physical force when molesting him. Rather, “he was Father Vince and no one questioned him. It was, as stated before, the power of mental manipulation,” the victim said.
Another victim testified, “I had an experience with this man who, the way I was raised, they were next to God. For a person of that caliber and stature to do what he had done to me was beyond my belief.”
That makes perfect sense to me.
Catholics hold priests in high regard. When I was at St. Thomas More, we revered the Rev. Francis Hayes. He founded the parish and watched a neighborhood grow around it. The Rev. James Donolan followed Hayes. He, too, was a priest we all admired. My uncle was a priest and an Air Force chaplain. The family was very proud of him. His visits home were a big deal.
I’m sure priest abuse occurred in those days, but we knew nothing about it because it just wasn’t discussed or was concealed by diocesan leaders who should have known better. Sadly, they employed a “hear no evil, see no evil” stance.
When allegations arose, it was easier to move a priest to another parish and assure complaining families that the problem was rectified. Law enforcement was not brought in; the priests were not immediately suspended or permanently removed from the church. That, I suppose, would be too embarrassing.
Records show the Rev. James O’Connor, pastor of Our Lady of Loretto, told McCaffrey in a letter that he had done his best to hide his pedophilia from suspicious parishioners. McCaffery moved again and again, and, not surprisingly, allegations of abuse occurred at every stop.
Meanwhile, the victims talk about dealing with physical ailments and anxiety, leaving the Church and being unable to trust anyone. Some could not discuss the ugly episodes of abuse for years, others repressed the memories.
This is a shameful episode in the history of the Catholic Church. Hopefully, it compels Church leaders to understand that it must never happen again.