CHICAGO (CBS) — The plot thickens with a remarkable whodunnit. Our mystery doesn’t involve a human victim though, but a statue.
Some 9 feet tall, the bronze statue of Father John Smyth was permanently affixed on the campus of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines for two decades.
Now it’s gone. Poof. Disappeared.
CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards has been covering the sex abuse allegations involving Smyth for months.
On a recent afternoon, Edwards went to the campus of Maryville Academy to see the life-size statue of Smyth in person. It’s no ordinary statue. It was done by the same artist who created the iconic Michael Jordan statue outside the United Center; an artist who specializes in honoring beloved figures.
The trouble is, what do you do for a statue for a beloved man when scandal erupts? Like the scandal surrounding Father Smyth, who lost his priestly collar during the last months of his life, when accuser after accuser came forward.
So when Edwards went out to Maryville last week, he couldn’t find the statue. It was gone.
But 9-foot-tall bronze statues don’t just disappear. Who took it? And why?
Sister Catherine Ryan, who runs Maryville, confirmed it “was removed sometime in August.”
“No one asked for or received permission from me as Executive Director of Maryville to remove the statue. I refer you to the Communications Department of the Archdiocese of Chicago if you have questions about this,” she said.
CBS 2 asked the Archdiocese four times to answer our questions, but got no response until they were pressed again on Friday.
A spokesperson at first said, “Neither Maryville nor the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave permission for the statue to be removed. We did not remove it and we do not know of its whereabouts.”
So if Maryville didn’t remove it, The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe didn’t remove it, and the Archdiocese didn’t remove it, who did?
We asked the Archdiocese if they called police about a possible theft.
“The Archdiocese did not authorize the removal of the statue. I’ll get back to you on your other questions ASAP,” a spokeswoman wrote in an email.
Then our ah-ha moment. While asking Smyth’s former attorney about a separate story, Frank DiFranco said the statue was removed to be restored by the Standing Tall Foundation — Smyth’s charitable organizaton — with the cost paid for by a “generous donor.”
DiFranco said the statue would stand again, but maybe not at Maryville.
Mary Vitulli, director of development at the Standing Tall Foundation said the organization learned the statue needed repairs, because it was in “dire shape.” But she couldn’t say where the statue is now, who is doing the repairs, how much they will cost, when the repairs will be finished or where the statue will be placed upon completion.
But both Vitulli and DiFranco were adamant – the statue will stand again.
Curiously, shortly after we learned the above information, an Archdiocese spokesperson got back to us with more information, yet they still didn’t know what happened to it:
“The statue was commissioned by the Maryville board and permanently installed on church property. The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe now occupies the part of the Church property on which it stood,” a spokesperson wrote in an email. “While Fr. Sanchez, the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, was on vacation the statue was removed. Neither Maryville nor the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave permission for the statue to be removed. The Archdiocese of Chicago did not remove it and we do not know its whereabouts. We have not yet called the police as we have been trying to ascertain the whereabouts of this Church property. The staff has been instructed to call the police if there is further vandalism of Shrine property.”
So someone removed a towering bronze statue of a towering figure from church property, and the church didn’t know? That’s apparently the case, at least with this 9-foot-tall statue of a larger-than-life man who was either a saint or a sinner, depending on who you ask.
Smyth now has at least a dozen individuals who have accused him of sexual assault.