House Chaplain Managed Priests Accused of Abuse

Posted November 19, 2008 at 1:45pm

From 1990 to 2000, the Rev. Daniel Coughlin — who is now the Chaplain of the House of Representatives — played a central role in the efforts of the Chicago Archdiocese to manage priests who had been accused of sexual abuse, according to newly released church documents, public records and interviews conducted by Roll Call.

When the archdiocese removed an accused priest from ministry in the early 1990s, he was often sent to a facility that Coughlin ran, though Coughlin was not responsible for overseeing those men. Later in the decade, Coughlin served as the archdiocesan point man for counseling troubled priests, including those accused of sexual misconduct.

Coughlin emphasizes that he did not make decisions about what to do with accused priests or how to manage them. His role was to help the priests comply with whatever protocols the archdiocese mandated.

“I was dealing with priests that had problems themselves and maybe were causing problems on a staff or causing problems in the community,” Coughlin said in an interview with Roll Call on Monday. “And so in that sense I was pastoring priests.”

In that role, shortly before he came to Washington, Coughlin petitioned Wisconsin corrections officials to release from prison Norbert Maday, a Chicago priest who had been convicted of molesting children, according to documents recently released by the archdiocese. Maday is still incarcerated, and Cardinal Francis George of the Chicago Archdiocese last year asked Wisconsin to ignore Coughlin’s prior appeal and keep him in custody, concluding that the priest remains a threat to children and the church is incapable of caring for him.

Coughlin’s role in working with alleged sexual abusers is little-known. Even attorneys who have pursued abuse cases against the Chicago Archdiocese said they did not realize that the center Coughlin ran was where the archdiocese placed suspected priests, and several advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse said they had not realized that Chicago’s Coughlin was the same Coughlin who became the House Chaplain.

It was several years after he left Chicago that the archdiocese made public the names of many of the priests accused of abuse with whom Coughlin had been working.

When he appointed Coughlin as Chaplain in 2000, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was probably unaware of the details of Coughlin’s work in Chicago.

Coughlin was named after a bitter, partisan dispute in the House, in which Hastert was accused of anti-Catholic bias and the Presbyterian minister he had chosen for the post withdrew.

Scrambling to put the matter to rest, Hastert chose Coughlin on the recommendation of Cardinal George, who was Coughlin’s boss. The vetting process for Coughlin was truncated, and the primary goal of the Speaker was to find someone who could serve as a healer for Congress, which had become bitterly divided over matters of faith.

See Thursday’s Roll Call for more details on the process that led to Coughlin’s selection, his tenure in Chicago and his role working with priests accused of sexual abuse.