CHICAGO (CBS) — A priest at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Chicago celebrated Mass for the first time Sunday since being cleared of sexual abuse allegations. He was asked to step aside from his duties in January pending the outcome of the investigation.

Father Patrick Lee was greeted with hugs and a standing ovation during services at the Lake View church, 720 W. Belmont.

“I’m overwhelmed by the reception, and I’m just very, very happy to be back,” Lee told CBS 2’s Eric Cox. “But in the current state of the church, with cover ups and things of the past, it’s important that we all cooperate with the investigation.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich said Lee cooperated with civil authorities and the Archdiocese of Chicago during the investigation.

Cupich said both state officials and the independent review board of the archdiocese determined the allegations against Lee were unfounded.

(Father Lee Credit: Mount Carmel Parish)

In an email sent last weekend to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Cupich said:

“These have been difficult days and months for you as a parish. You have shown great patience as each jurisdiction has completed its process. I thank you for doing so. Father Lee has also suffered, as you well know, but he has offered that suffering freely, convinced of the need for us as a Church to keep our word that the protection and safety of our children remains the priority.”

Lee was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1979 while he was assigned to St. Christopher Parish in Midlothian.

Lee worked for the diocese as a pastor and faculty member at the following locations:

  • St. Christopher Parish in Midlothian — May 12, 1976 to June 30, 1979
  • St. Matthias Parish in Chicago — May 23, 1979 to December 7, 1983
  • Quigley Preparatory Seminary in Chicago — July 1, 1979 to December 31, 1986
  • St. Giles Parish in Oak Park — December 7, 1983 to December 30, 1986
  • Immaculate Conception Parish in Chicago — June 15, 1986 to July 1, 2013
  • St. Joseph Parish in Chicago — July 1, 2001 to July 1, 2013
  • Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Chicago — July 1, 2013 to present

Lee was asked if everyone at the church will be able to heal.

“I think so; I think if I’m not upset any longer, they won’t be either.”

“Having a 1-year-old, the most important thing for me is just making sure he’s safe and sound and growing up in a faith that prides itself on taking care of its younger ones,” Parishioner Ryan Gelchion said.

Eric Cox