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Accused Ex-Priest Received $200,000 Severance Package, Prosecutors Say

Jun 18, 2002 | Chicago Daily Herald

A former Wheeling priest now charged with possessing thousands of child pornography images was paid about $200,000 by the Archdiocese of Chicago to leave the priesthood because of child sexual abuse allegations lodged against him, prosecutors said Monday.

Vincent E. McCaffrey, now 49, agreed to a severance package in 1992 that paid him about $40,000 a year for five years plus education expenses, said prosecutors, who cited documents seized from the defrocked priest's Chicago condo.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese disputed the terms of the agreement, saying McCaffrey was given less than $100,000. But she defended the deal, saying the cash was for counseling and training.

"We have a person who had been in ministry for a number of years," spokeswoman Dianne Dunagan said. "We understand there's going to be a transition to lay life that will require possible vocational training. We don't just leave people with nothing."

The payments came after Cardinal Joseph Bernardin removed McCaffrey from a Chicago parish in 1991 and placed him on administrative leave because of "several" allegations of child sexual abuse stemming from the early 1980s, Dunagan said.

The payments also came after Bernardin sent a signed letter to McCaffrey in 1987 that essentially welcomed him back to active ministry after being rehabilitated for what prosecutors believe was sexual misconduct with a child, prosecutors said.

Bernardin's letter, the severance documents and the child porn were found last week by federal agents investigating McCaffrey after his name was found on a list of subscribers to a child porn Web site, prosecutors said.

A federal judge ordered McCaffrey held without bond Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk argued McCaffrey should be detained because he is a flight risk and a risk to himself. McCaffrey, fearful he might try to kill himself, checked in to a Chicago hospital shortly after agents questioned him last Tuesday, Funk said.

He was discharged Monday and arrested after his court appearance, where he was still wore a plastic hospital bracelet.

Prosecutors are still trying to determine how many children have accused McCaffrey of abuse. The documents found named one victim but suggested there were others, Funk said. "The government believes we have a child abuser on our hands," he told the judge.

McCaffrey was an associate pastor at St. Joseph the Worker in Wheeling from 1982 until 1987. He was at Our Lady of Good Counsel on Chicago's South Side when Bernardin removed him.

Officials have not said exactly when or where the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Church officials said they referred the allegations to the Cook County state's attorney's office around 1992 after a newly-appointed church commission found enough evidence to move forward. McCaffrey was not charged with any crime at the time.

When questioned last week, McCaffrey told federal agents he had not had contact with a minor in 15 years, but would not elaborate. He also told them he was addicted to both teenage boys and child porn, according to court documents.

Dunagan said monetary agreements made with resigning priests are not unusual, even when the priest is resigning in the wake of sexual abuse allegations.

"We would not deliberately refuse to help someone who is resigning from the priesthood - even under these circumstances," she said.

After McCaffrey left the priesthood, he managed a gas station in Winnetka, worked at Crate & Barrel in Old Orchard Shopping Center and sold insurance. He has received counseling since 1987, his attorney, Catherine O'Daniel said.

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