Vincent McCaffrey appeared before a gallery of his victims in federal court Monday and admitted he was a “serial molester” who could not stop preying on children.
“I cannot be cured,” he said.
McCaffrey, who at one time was assigned to a Calumet City parish, said dozens of minors endured sexual contact with him hundreds of times.
Some of those boys, now men, confronted McCaffrey in U.S. District Court to say he should be sent to prison.
“I deeply regret my harm and my hurt to each one of them,” McCaffrey said, looking at his victims. “I promise you my prayers for the rest of my life.”
McCaffrey was arrested in June and charged with possessing more than 4,000 images of child pornography. He faces up to 17 years in prison.
The former priest pleaded guilty and the men were called to relate stories that may affect his sentence. Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah to hand down a severe sentence that reflects McCaffrey’s pattern of abuse.
“My life has been destroyed,” said one man, 30, who said he was in the eighth grade in 1984 when he met McCaffrey, then associate pastor at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Wheeling. For the next six years, he said, McCaffrey molested him “more than 200 times.”
“There really is no purpose for me to live,” the man said tearfully. “The only time I feel alive is when I feel angry. I spent a lot of years in a really dark place. I’m not over it. I never will be.”
At St. Victor Church in Calumet City, McCaffrey’s first assignment following his 1978 ordination, the priest was confronted with accusations of abuse. In 1982, the Rev. Leo Mahon, then pastor of St. Victor, informed McCaffrey that two parish boys said he abused them. McCaffrey admitted the abuse, and Mahon asked him to leave the parish.
Archdiocese officials then assigned McCaffrey to St. Joseph the Worker, and in 1985 he was reassigned to St. Josaphat on Chicago’s North Side.
“The way I was raised, priests were next to God, and to have someone of that caliber do something like this to me is beyond my belief,” said a 39-year-old man who claimed McCaffrey abused him beginning in 1977.
“I feel that every victim after me, I’m somewhat responsible for. If I had been stronger at the time, those children wouldn’t have been molested,” the man said.
McCaffrey would take boys from his parishes to a cabin he and several other priests owned in Twin Lakes, Wis.
One of those other priests, the Rev. Patrick Cecil, now pastor of a far north suburban parish, testified on McCaffrey’s behalf and said he had known McCaffrey was being treated for sexual addiction to young boys in 1987.
Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk asked Cecil if he ever went to the police with information about McCaffrey and the boys he said he abused.
“No, I did not,” Cecil said. “He didn’t tell me who they were or where they were.”
In addition to boys at parishes, McCaffrey confessed he solicited male prostitutes frequently while a priest, though he insisted he always asked the “hustlers” if they were 18.
McCaffrey denied having genital sexual intercourse with any of the boys, and said the ones who alleged he had were lying.
A 40-year-old man who accused McCaffrey of abusing him in 1978 said he thought of the priest as a big brother until McCaffrey began molesting him.
“I see him now and I want to physically hurt him,” the man said, staring at McCaffrey, who sat in court in a bright orange jumpsuit and stared at the table in front of him.
“I’m shaking like a leaf right now. I have a baby girl and I wouldn’t baptize her in the Catholic Church for anything. I think about this all the time,” he said.
A young woman who identified herself as McCaffrey’s niece said the priest brought parish boys along on family vacations, and the boys slept in his bed, but he used his influence as a clergyman to convince them not to say anything.
“Everyone knew,” she said. “He did it right under everyone’s noses, because he was Father Vince and nobody questioned him.”
McCaffrey testified that he received treatment for sexual addiction and alcoholism for years, beginning in 1987, but he continued to molest children until he left the priesthood.
Since 1993, he has lived alone in Chicago, working first as a manager for an Amoco gas station and then for State Farm Insurance as an insurance salesman.
He said he attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings before his arrest, but admitted he did not think he could control his sexual appetites on his own.
When federal agents searched his home, McCaffrey told them he used child pornography as a “release” and as a way to keep himself from abusing actual children. He described his pornography collection to agents as a “victimless crime.”
His sentencing is set for Jan. 6. The Archdiocese of Chicago faces a lawsuit over McCaffrey’s behavior.