With at least five of his victims glaring at him, former Wheeling priest Vincent McCaffrey admitted in court Monday he was a serial child molester who left a 24-year “trail of broken lives” behind him.
Testifying at his child pornography sentencing hearing in federal court, McCaffrey calmly admitted molesting 14 boys when he served as their mentor at Roman Catholic parishes in the city and suburbs, including at Wheeling’s St. Joseph the Worker Church.
McCaffrey, 50, also admitted he had sexual contact with up to 50 underage boys over the years, but said many of those encounters came when he, too, was a teen.
Two of his victims, testifying under just their first names, said they once were parishioners at St. Joseph, where McCaffrey was an associate pastor from 1982 to 1987.
Eddie, now a 31-year-old bartender in Los Angeles, said McCaffrey talked his mother into letting him be an altar boy when he was in fifth or sixth grade. McCaffrey then molested him up to 25 times over the next two years, mostly in the rectory of the Wheeling church.
One encounter came just an hour before receiving Communion from McCaffrey at his Confirmation, a Catholic rite of passage, to Eddie in the church, he said.
“I don’t believe in God (now),” Eddie testified. “I feel like I’ve been dead inside for 16 years. But I do believe in fate. Fate is what put me here. To help put this guy away.”
Another former St. Joseph parishioner, Kevin, now a 30-year-old electrical construction worker, said his family was so close to McCaffrey growing up that he “loved him” and called him “uncle.” That caused McCaffrey, who mostly sat impassively during the hearing, to briefly put his head in his hands.
But McCaffrey abused the bond by molesting him more than 200 times over five years, Kevin said.
“My life has been destroyed,” Kevin said. “Eddie’s testimony really hit home when he said he felt dead. There’s really no reason to live. The only time I feel alive is when I’m angry.”
McCaffrey took the stand after the victims testified. His lawyer, Thomas Royce, asked if he had anything to say to his victims.
“I deeply regret my harm and my hurt to everyone,” McCaffrey told a crowded courtroom, his voice cracking with emotion. “I promise you my prayers every day for the rest of my life.”
His testimony concluded an extraordinary day of admissions by him and long-buried stories told by his victims. McCaffrey hopes his cooperation will get him out of jail before he dies. His victims hope their stories will get him imprisoned for nearly 20 years.
The root case against McCaffrey does not actually involve sexual molestation. Rather, it revolves around the more than 4,200 child pornography images U.S. Customs agents found in his Chicago condominium in June. The agents were tracking subscribers to a New Zealand-based child porn Web site. Agents found the porn scattered around the condo, with some tucked under his mattress.
McCaffrey, who is being held without bond, has pleaded guilty to possessing the images. His defense attorney argued the crime should warrant a prison sentence of four years. But Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk introduced the evidence of years of child molestation none of which McCaffrey ever was charged with as aggravating factors that should boost his sentence to nearly 20 years.
McCaffrey’s victims have come forward since the former priest was arrested in June. Some said they told their parents and church officials about the abuse years ago but said McCaffrey was allowed to work at other churches. He finally was removed from active ministry in 1991 and left the church in 1993. McCaffrey claims he quit. Prosecutors say he was forced out.
McCaffrey’s victims told similar stories of how he was a popular, “big brother” type who organized camping trips and took them to health clubs and a Wisconsin cabin he owned with four other priests. McCaffrey would earn the trust of the victims’ parents and then molest the children, they testified.
Several of the victims glared at McCaffrey, who was clad in an orange jail jumpsuit, as they approached the witness stand.
When McCaffrey testified, he said he is a recovering alcoholic who is addicted to young boys. McCaffrey said has been in treatment for his addiction for years and even spent six months in a Maryland facility in 1987. At one point, McCaffrey said he was taking seven different medications to fight his problems, including one that lowered his testosterone level, and subsequently, his sex drive.
On cross-examination, Funk confronted McCaffrey.
“There’s a trail of broken lives because of your molestation, would you agree with that?” Funk asked.
“Yes,” McCaffrey said.
“You’re a serial molester, aren’t you?” Funk asked.
“A predator on young boys?”
“Who can’t be cured.”
“No,” said McCaffrey. “I can’t be cured.”
McCaffrey’s niece, identified only as Kate, testified McCaffrey routinely slept in the same bed with young boys during trips to the cabin. “He did it right under everyone’s noses,” she said. “He was Father Vince, and no one questioned him.”
One victim, John, now 40, said he wanted to physically hurt McCaffrey when he saw him Monday. He said he once fled McCaffrey’s advances and the priest drove down an alley, chasing him. “He was knocking down garbage cans and fences with his Pinto,” he said.
U.S. District Judge John W. Darrah continued the hearing until Jan. 6, when he likely will hand down his sentence.
McCaffrey’s victims said he needs to be kept off the streets.
“This man has gotten away with doing this for many, many years,” said another victim, Mike, now 34. “As long as he’s out, he’ll keep doing what he’s done.”
Confront: Priest admits he’s a monster that can’t be cured.