Priest accused of child sex abuse AWOL from religious order

The former president of an Illinois Catholic high school who is under investigation for allegations of sexually abusing a male student in the 1990s is missing from the Augustinian order to which he belongs, according to The Chicago Tribune

Sister Mary Ann Hamer, assistant treasurer for the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, which operates Providence Catholic High School, told the Tribune Friday that Rev. Richard McGrath, 72, was “absent without leave” after having moved out of the St. John Stone Friary. Hamer added that he had left in the last couple of months on his own accord.

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But Rev. Anthony B. Pizzo, prior provincial of the Midwest Augustinians, sent a statement to the Tribune Friday that McGrath was “illegitimately” absent, which means he is no longer affiliated with the Augustinian order. While he remains a priest, he lacks the canonical authority to fulfill a priest’s duties. 

McGrath abruptly retired from Providence Catholic last year after working there for 32 years. He was being investigated for “potentially inappropriate material” on his cell phone. 

Police were contacted after a female student said she saw an image of a naked boy on McGrath’s cell phone. They closed their investigation without charging him after McGrath refused to turn over his cell phone, according to police records reviewed by the Tribune. 

A new investigation was opened in January after a man said McGrath abused him as a student in the 1990s. New Lenox Police Chief Bob Sterba said he found Robert Krankvich, the alleged victim, “very credible during a lengthy interview.” Krankvich also filed a lawsuit detailing abuse between the ages of 13 and 15 in McGrath’s office and at the friary where he lived.

Police submitted its evidence to the Will County state’s attorney’s office for review in March, but no charges have yet been filed. A spokeswoman for the Will County state’s attorney’s office told the Tribune the case is still under review.

The Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel removed McGrath from all public ministry duties after the accusations in December and moved him to the Hyde Park friary, where it felt it could more closely supervise him. 

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Chicago, which has final say over who lives at the friary because it is located within the archdiocese, said the order did not notify officials that McGrath was living there until four months after he’d moved in.

“The Augustinian order only mentioned that Fr. McGrath had allegations of ‘inappropriate material’ on his mobile phone and he had completed safe-environment training…” she said in an email. “If they had fully informed us of his status he would not have been permitted to live in the Archdiocese of Chicago.” 

The spokeswoman added that when the archdiocese became aware of the sexual abuse allegations against McGrath, it told the Augustinian order he would need to be moved. McGrath later moved to another residence unaffiliated with the order without permission.