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Ormechea Is Out Of Pulpit

Dec 19, 2002 | Pioneer Press Online

Parishioners at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 7211 W. Talcott Ave., learned last weekend that one of their former pastors, the Rev. John Baptist Ormechea, C.P., has been removed from ministry, following allegations of sexual abuse during his service here two decades ago.

Ormechea, 65, a member of the Passionist order, served for several years as an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception, before being assigned as pastor in 1980. He left for other assignments in 1988, and most recently was pastor of another Passionist-led congregation, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Louisville, Ky.

An outgoing, popular priest, he was known as “Father J.B.â€

Marcy Jensen, spokesman for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, said they began investigating allegations against Ormechea about three months ago.

All of the incidents investigated allegedly occurred between 1978 and 1981, and involved four young men, all members of parish families, who ranged from 11 to 14 or 15 years of age at the time.

Jensen said that Ormechea had been visiting the boys’ families at the times when several incidents are alleged to have occurred. In several cases, he had gone into a boy’s bedroom to say goodnight.

The State’s Attorney’s office sent a letter last week to the Rev. Michael Higgins, C.P., head of the Passionist Provincial office, 5700 N. Harlem Ave., Chicago, to inform him that the investigators believed that the allegations against Ormechea were credible.

“According to church policy, when allegations are made and judged to be credible, we must remove people from the ministry,†Higgins said.

He contacted the archbishop of Louisville, Thomas C. Kelly, and then went to Louisville himself to notify Ormechea of the decision to replace him as pastor at St. Agnes. Ormechea left Louisville on Friday afternoon, accompanied by another member of the order, and is in seclusion in another house of the Passionist order.

“He is in shock, and very dismayed,†said Higgins. “This is the first (such case) we've had in our order. These are allegations, not proven.â€

Higgins said he wants to speak to Ormechea and the assistant state’s attorney who led the investigation, to better understand the situation. He also would like to provide any support he can to the victims.

Cook County has decided not to prosecute Ormechea, Jensen said, because the statute of limitations ran out years ago. At the time the alleged incidents would have occurred, a report of the abuse would have had to be made within three years.

Ormechea will remain a member of the Passionist community, Higgins said, but may not minister directly with people. Recent changes in procedures, affecting accused priests within the Roman Catholic Church, must be considered before he can be assigned any alternate duties.

Higgins spent the weekend meeting with the parish leadership at St. Agnes, and announced Ormechea’s removal to those attending each of the Saturday and Sunday Masses. On Monday, the archdiocese brought in a 14-member crisis counseling team to the parish elementary school, to address concerns from families and students there.

Higgins said that the Rev. Albert Schwer, who had served as a senior priest at the Louisville congregation, will return from Birmingham, Ala. to replace Ormechea as St. Agnes’ pastor.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the Rev. Michael Hoolahan, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, shared the news at the Saturday and Sunday Masses. While Ormechea’s removal directly affects St. Agnes, “it impacts us too,†Hoolahan said.

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