Less than a week after he was reinstated to his position as pastor of a Chicago parish, another witness has stepped forward with a new allegation of child sex abuse against Rev. Michael W. O’Connell.
O’Connell returned to his post on April 17, after taking a leave of absence from his current parish after he was accused in December 2013 of sexual misconduct with a minor while serving at Our Lady of the Woods in Orland Park, 20 years ago.
An investigation by the Cook County Sheriff's office, working with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, was unable to find enough evidence to support the charges, Barbara Blaine said, president of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Now, another former south suburban man has stepped forward, stating that he witnessed O’Connell abusing a young male teen at an Orland Park fitness center sometime in 1999 or 2000.
The witness, now 33 and living in Nevada, contacted SNAP in Chicago after learning that the Archdiocese had allowed O’Connell to return to ministry.
At a press conference in the SNAP offices in downtown Chicago on Monday afternoon, John Doe #2 recounted his encounter with O’Connell and the boy, introduced to him by O’Connell as an incoming freshman at Marist High School. Both he and O’Connell, whom he knew as “Mike,” were members of the same gym near 157th Street and Harlem Avenue.
“I was very young at the time. Mike was hanging out with questionable people, which is part of the reason he never wanted to admit to being a priest,” John Doe #2 alleged. “He was doing questionable things.”
During the workout session, the 33-year-old witness claims that he saw O’Connell allegedly massaging the boy’s shoulders and then his buttocks out in the open while showing the boy how to use the “shoulder machine.”
“I started to become concerned for the child’s safety,” John Doe #2 said.
Later, when he went to the locker room, he alleges he saw O’Connell with his hands down the front of the front of the child’s pants. The 33-year-old witness said he doesn’t know the name of the boy.
“That’s part of the reason why I’m coming out right now,” John Doe #2 said, who was about 19 or 20 when the alleged incident took place. “I’m hoping that other victims would come forward and be brave. I’m hoping that possibly this child will come forward and be brave.”
John Doe #2, who grew up in the Orland Park area, screamed when he saw O’Connell with the boy, after which, he alleges, O’Connell threatened him in the locker room. He never spoke to the boy or learned his name.
At the time of the incident, he didn’t know that O’Connell was a priest until his mother told him that his aunt’s priest, whose name was Mike, worked out at the same gym as John Doe #2.
“I didn’t trust that it was same ‘Mike,’” he said. “I went around and started asking questions who the priest was until finally somebody told me.”
Asked if he was certain that it was same man who was cleared to go back to ministry last week, he said that pictures he’s seen of O’Connell today are “the same dude” from 15 years ago.
“The look of disgust that the kid had on his face when he was massaging his shoulders,” John Doe #2 alleged, “that sticks with me more than anything else.”
He claims he didn’t tell anybody because it would be a “punk 18-year-old kid’s word against a priest’s.”
Further, four or five years ago when he told his cousins to keep their young children away from Father Mike because he was “dangerous,” his cousins called him a liar.
John Doe #2 spent most of Monday morning telling his story to Cook County Sheriff’s investigators. He has not yet met with the Archdiocese.
O’Connell did not return Patch’s phone call seeking comment. As of Monday evening, the Archdiocese has not taken any action against the priest, the Sun-Times reported.
John Doe #2 says he has “facts that will back me up so police can do their investigation,” but he wishes he did more 15 years ago.
“I did help that kid that one day, but did I help him enough,” he said.