A Priest, a Principal & a Sexual Predator – How Fr. Richard McGrath Escaped Accountability for Decades
Guess the era this happened—the 1970s or the early 2000s:
A Catholic priest is caught by a student looking at child sex abuse images while attending a wrestling match. In previous years, the priest’s superior had been notified of complaints by students and parents that this same priest was giving students inappropriate backrubs and watching boys shower in the locker room.
If you guessed the 1970s, (before most sex abuse survivors in the Catholic Church came forward and forced change), you’d be wrong.
These events took place between 2007 and 2010 –20 years after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops promised transparency and zero tolerance. The priest, Fr. Richard McGrath, was also the principal of Illinois’ Providence Catholic High School. At the time, McGrath was a member of the Augustinian order—the order brought into the Joliet Diocese to run the school.
Guess what happened after church officials found out that McGrath was viewing child sex abuse images on his cell phone?
If you guessed: “Little to nothing,” you would be correct. According to the Chicago Sun Times:
An officer came to the school and, along with Fr. John Merkelis (the local head of the Augustinian province), approached McGrath in his office.
“Did you ask Father McGrath to turn over his cellphone?” one of Krankvich’s attorneys asked Merkelis in his deposition.
“I did,” the priest said.
“And what did he say to that?” Merkelis was asked.
“That he would not,” Merkelis said.
The attorney asked, “Did he say why he would not?”
Merkelis said, “He did not.”
A police report says McGrath eventually “stood up and walked out of the office, advising that he needed to get to the theater.”
McGrath was eventually removed from his position at the school, although his standing as a priest and a member of the Augustinian Order is still unknown. It is also unknown as to what other potential sex crimes McGrath may have committed.
In 2017, McGrath was sued by brave survivor Robert Krankvich for sexual abuse that took place in the 1990s. When McGrath was asked under oath if he had ever viewed child pornography during his deposition, he asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer.
The Augustinian Order does not fare any better than McGrath in this situation and should also be held accountable. They did not only refuse to take immediate action to protect children from McGrath, but also refused to release a list of clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse. This list would protect others from future abuse, help survivors, and most importantly, hold perpetrators like McGrath accountable.
Where does this leave us? With far more questions than answers. The actions of Richard McGrath and Augustinian officials are not outliers. Covering for offenders, evading accountability, and putting children in danger are still the modus operandi of much of the Catholic hierarchy.
The only way that survivors and the public will know the truth about McGrath and the Augustinians is when more brave survivors come forward seeking justice in civil court. Why? Because the Augustinians have already shown us that child safety is the least of their priorities.