By Margaret Ramirez, Tribune religion reporter
A Wheeling man filed a $250,000 civil lawsuit Wednesday against the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, alleging that a priest molested him as a child and church officials purposefully hid the abuse from police and parishioners.
Keith Laarveld, 32, a former altar boy at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Wheeling, said he was repeatedly sexually abused by former priest Vincent McCaffrey from 1982 to 1986. Laarveld was between the ages of 8 and 12 at the time.
McCaffrey is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for possession of child pornography. In court documents, he admitted to sexually abusing 40 children “hundreds and hundreds” of times.
He served as a priest in the Chicago archdiocese from 1978 through 1991, when the archdiocese removed him from ministry. He resigned the priesthood in 1993 and pleaded guilty to the child porn charges in 2002.
At a news conference in Chicago, Laarveld said he decided to come forward that year after seeing a childhood friend testify at McCaffrey’s sentencing hearing about being abused. He said he filed suit in hopes that the archdiocese will admit its responsibility in allowing a pedophile priest to remain in contact with children.
“I came forward to make sure this does not happen again,” Laarveld said. “The archdiocese needs to admit they were responsible.”.
His mother, Kathy, said she hopes that victims’ lawsuits trigger reform in screening seminary candidates and handling sex abuse allegations. Laarveld’s suit alleges that McCaffrey diagnosed himself as a pedophile to seminary officials in 1976 but was allowed to complete his studies and become a priest.
“Being a pedophile is a medical condition and the church denies that,” Kathy Laarveld said. “They need to make an acknowledgment that this can’t be cured.”
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who is representing Laarveld, said the recent scandal involving Rev. Daniel McCormack of St. Agatha parish on Chicago’s West Side is reminiscent of the McCaffrey case in that archdiocese officials failed to remove McCormack immediately from ministry.
“The cardinals might be different, but the culture that protected predators like Vincent McCaffrey and Dan McCormack are still in place,” he said.
Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, said he could not respond to the charges in the lawsuit because he had not seen it. But, Dwyer said he was perplexed by the lawsuit since the archdiocese has a history of publicly resolving several claims related to abuse by McCaffrey.
In 2003, the archdiocese reached a $4 million settlement with four men allegedly abused by McCaffrey. Anderson was one of the attorneys involved in that settlement.