LAKEVIEW — A Roman Catholic pastor will be returning to church in time for Easter this week after investigations found that an allegation of sexual misconduct against him was unfounded, the Archdiocese of Chicago said Tuesday morning.
The Rev. Michael W. O'Connell voluntarily stepped away from St. Alphonsus Catholic Church, 1429 W. Wellington Ave., in December after a man alleged that O'Connell abused him nearly 20 years ago at a parish in suburban Orland Park.
The archdiocese released a statement Tuesday saying that the Archdiocesan Office of Child Abuse Investigations and the Cook County Sheriff's Office determined that the allegation was unfounded.
O'Connell will be returning to his position as pastor of the Lakeview church Thursday, the statement said.
The board, "after a careful process always motivated by the need to protect children, did not find reason to suspect that sexual abuse of a minor had occurred and recommended that Fr. O’Connell be returned to active ministry," the statement said.
The pastor joined St. Alphonsus in summer 2012. He'd been at the Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Orland Park for fifteen years, according to his bio.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests criticized the church in December for not suspending O'Connell and for keeping the pastor's location under wraps. Allowing him to "voluntarily" step aside minimized the seriousness of the alleged crimes, the group said at the time.
The survivors group is "disappointed and surprised" that O'Connell is being reinstated, president Barbara Blaine said in a statement. Members of the group met O'Connell's accuser and found him "very credible," she said.
"We've seen dozens of cases across the country in which Catholic officials have reinstated an accused child-molesting cleric only to later oust him permanently," Blaine said. "It takes a great deal of courage and strength for child sex abuse victims to speak up. They often suffer in silence and self blame for decades. Accusations are rarely made lightly."