CHICAGO (CBS) — A Chicago priest has been re-instated after an investigation into an allegation that he molested a child nearly two decades ago.
Rev. Michael. W. O’Connell is returning to St. Alphonsus Parish in the Lakeview neighborhood four months after he stepped down as pastor when an allegation was made that he molested a minor at another parish nearly two decades earlier.
There was outrage when it was made public, from parishioners who didn’t believe it and from advocates for those abused by priests who thought Fr. O’Connell should have been suspended.
The Archdiocese says the allegation was unfounded. The allegation was investigated by the Cook County Sheriff’s office and the Archdiocesan Independent Review Board. Neither found evidence that Fr. O’Connell molested his accuser, who is now in his 20’s.
The priest will be back in the parish on Thursday and spoke with reporters on Tuesday at Holy Name Cathedral.
Asked if he has ever done anything inappropriate or anything that could be perceived that way, O’Connell said: “No. I have never done anything inappropriate with a young person.”
Asked what he would like to say to his accuser, O’Connell said: “I’m not sure. I hope he finds peace in his life and blessing in his life.”
O’Connell says he never met his accuser and doesn’t know why he made the allegations.
He says he’s learned a little about the person but doesn’t feel comfortable sharing that information with reporters.
Father O’Connell describes his four-and-a-half months away from ministry as “challenging,” but he says, “the Lord stood with me.”
O’Connell worked at the southwest suburban parish between 1997 and 2012, and has held various posts within the archdiocese since his ordination in 1983, Burritt said.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Department told CBS 2’s Brad Edwards that they did a thorough investigation in concert with the state’s attorneys and that found that charges “could not be supported.: