On Nov. 2, 1963 an Oak Lawn police officer called the Rev. Francis W. Byrne in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Chancery Office. The officer told Byrne that four days earlier Rev. David F. Braun, then an assistant pastor at St. Linus Parish in Oak Lawn, had been arrested for “attempted immorality with a young boy of 14” who had been hitchhiking.
The boy reportedly jumped out of the car after being propositioned, got the license plate of the car and told his father. The boy’s father told police he’d drop the charges if “the Church will handle the matter.”
On Nov. 6, two Oak Lawn cops personally visited Msgr. William McNichols, the pastor of St. Gerald Church, also in Oak Lawn. It’s not clear whether police paid a visit to the pastor at St. Linus, a church dedicated just six year earlier.
The officers informed McNichols that there were two more charges pending against Braun.
McNichols immediately phoned Byrne; the police officers may have been inside the rectory as he made the call. McNichols spoke to Byrne in Latin.
They had to get Braun out of town, fast.
Byrne the same day confronted Braun, who confessed that since 1956, while an assistant at Sacred Heart parish on the South Side, he’d cruise the streets looking for teenage boys. Braun told Byrne that he “could not begin to count the occasions” of his encounters with boys, whom he’d size up by the way they dressed or walked.
When he found a willing victim, they’d meet at a forest preserve or inside Braun’s car and have sex.
Within hours of police showing up with new allegations on Nov. 6, McNichols had Braun on a plane and out of the state. Braun flew to an unnamed treatment facility, where it appears he served a kind of house arrest while waiting for things to blow over back home.
He was forbidden to contact any of his acquaintances from St. Linus, even from sending them Christmas cards. On Thanksgiving Day 1963, Braun wrote Byrne a letter in which he states that “possible scandal” was “constantly in my thoughts and prayers of reparation.”
Braun also wrote that his time away from Chicago was “a fine opportunity, almost like a second novitiate, to look ahead” and resume “a still fruitful and sacrificing life in the priesthood.”
The Church apparently agreed. By March 1964, Braun was back working as a priest in Chicago. He would be transferred to six more parishes in the Chicago area — the last being Mater Christi Church in North Riverside — before being forced to retire in 1992.
He was never prosecuted for any of the allegations made in 1963. Following Braun’s retirement, the archdiocese would find out about more.
Fifty-one years to the day police visited Msgr. McNichols about Braun — on Nov. 6, 2014 — the Archdiocese of Chicago released thousands of pages of documents outlining complaints since 1952 of sexual abuse and assault by 36 priests against children.
The latest batch of documents follows on the heels of 5,000 pages of documents pertaining to 30 priests, which were released by a Chicago law firm representing priests’ sexual abuse victims in January. The documents were released as part of a settlement reached between the firm’s clients and the archdiocese.
Among those with ties to the Landmark’s coverage area are Braun; John Hefferan and Joseph Fitzharris, who were assigned to St. Louise de Marillac Church in LaGrange Park in the 1950s and 1960s; and Michael J. Hogan, who served as an associate pastor and parish administrator at St. Barbara Church in Brookfield from 1984-1992.
The archdiocese on Nov. 6 also released more documents pertaining to Russell Romano, who served at St. Barbara from 1980 to 1991— the same time Hogan was there. Romano was accused of sexually abusing several teenage boys inside the parish’s rectory and at Quigley South Seminary where he worked as a teacher.
The documents demonstrate that the Church, in cases like Braun’s, for decades shielded accused pedophiles from prosecution, moving them around and attempting to place them in positions where they would have little direct contact with children.
After leaving St. Linus, Braun would train and work as a counselor for alcoholics, though he continued to struggle with alcohol addiction himself, documents show. In March 1964 after returning from out of state, the archdiocese assigned Braun to St. Teresa Church on the city’s Northwest Side.
Between 1964 and 1990, Braun served in at least six other parishes. After being turned down by several pastors as a possible associate, Braun found an assignment at Mater Christi.
He was there just two years. In 1992, and in ill health, Braun retired.
In 1993, a man contacted archdiocesan officials and said he’d been sexually abused by Braun as a 12-year-old boy in Sacred Heart parish, which Braun was assigned from the time he was ordained in 1954 until 1961.
Two years later, a man accused Braun of sexually molesting him on several occasions while he was an adolescent at St. Teresa parish, where Braun had been assigned after staying at the out-of-state treatment facility.
That victim also told archdiocesan officials that on one occasion he witnessed Braun in a room with another boy, who had his pants down. The victim said that he reported that incident to a local youth center at the time.
And in 2002, another man claimed that Braun had groped and kissed him “after confession multiple times” while Braun was at a parish in Winnetka in the early 1980s. The man was 22 at the time of the incidents, according to the documents.
In 2008, another alleged victim would come forward to report being sexually abused by Braun in 1954 while Braun was at Sacred Heart parish, his first assignment as a priest. The alleged victim was 12 years old at the time.
Braun died in 1997.
Joseph L. Fitzharris
St. Louise de Marillac Church LaGrange Park
Assistant pastor July 7, 1962 – May 22, 1967
He served at seven other parishes between 1967 and 1992.
Left active ministry Jan. 3, 1995.
Decades before nearly a dozen alleged victims made formal allegations of sexual abuse against Fitzharris between 2002 and 2007, church officials had been warned about him.
In January 1969, Rev. George Aschenbrenner, pastor of St. Aloysius Church in Chicago wrote a letter to Rev. Jon L. May, the chairman of the archdiocese’s priest personnel board. He held off sending the letter for an unknown time, but eventually gave it to May, perhaps as late as 1972.
“Father Fitzharris’ difficulty is a serious personality problem which I am convinced calls for professional help,” Aschenbrenner wrote. “I would say unless Joe gets some professional help he is going to have serious problems wherever he is assigned.”
Aschenbrenner refers only obliquely to his issue with Fitzharris, writing, “Nothing will be achieved by his denying his problem, or by attempts at escaping from it into other areas of activity. I would suspect that this sort of attitude might well lead to much more serious difficulty in the future.”
He bluntly requested that Fitzharris be removed from his parish.
Fitzharris had come to St. Aloysius in 1967 from St. Louise de Marillac Church in LaGrange Park, where he’d been assigned as a newly ordained priest in 1962. He ended up staying at St. Aloysius until 1973.
And in 1978 he was assigned to St. Francis Xavier in Chicago (closed in 1991), and it was there that he was accused of sexually molesting several children, both boys and girls, at least one of them as young as 3 years old.
Fitzharris stayed at St. Francis until 1986, when he was placed on “medical leave” for 18 months.
In Nov. 1986, Fitzharris was accused of the criminal sexual abuse of a 15 year old boy. That incident occurred in December 1985. On May 4, 1987, Fitzharris pleaded guilty to the charge in front of a Cook County Judge. He was sentenced to 12 months of court supervision.
Two months later he was assigned to Good Shepherd Church as an associate. But by late 1991, after catching wind that Fitzharris had formed an “imprudent relationship” with a woman, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin had enough.
“The nature of your psychological difficulties is such that you are not able to rightly carry out priestly ministry,” Bernardin wrote on Oct. 28, 1991. “Considering the gravity of your difficulties, I do not foresee ever being able to allow you to exercise the sacred ministry.”
John E. Hefferan
St. Louise de Marillac Church, LaGrange Park
Assistant pastor July 7, 1956 – July 7, 1962
He served at 10 other parishes between 1962 and 2002.
Hefferan’s first assignment after being ordained in 1956 was as assistant pastor at St. Louise de Marillac Church in LaGrange Park. He remained there until 1962, when he was assigned to St. Anastasia parish in Waukegan.
In 2002, a woman accused Hefferan of sexually abusing her while she was a junior high school student at St. Anastasia between 1964-67, but she did not make a formal accusation.
Two other women made formal accusations against Hefferan. The first accusation against him surfaced in March 1993, nine years before he was placed on leave. In that complaint, the woman said Hefferan kissed her on the mouth while groping her when she was a 12-year-old student at St. John Vianney in Northlake in the 1970s.
The archdiocese at that time forbade Hefferan from having unsupervised contact with minors. By July 1993, those restrictions were lifted.
In 2003, another alleged victim stated she was in sixth or seventh grade at Infant Jesus of Prague School in Flossmoor when Hefferan fondled her breasts. Hefferan denied the allegation, but the archdiocese determined there was reasonable cause to suspect the incident occurred.
Hefferan was removed from public ministry in October 2003; he lives at an archdiocesan retirement home for priests in the south suburbs.
Michael J. Hogan
St. Barbara Church, Brookfield
Associate pastor May 19, 1984 – June 22, 1992
Parish administrator Nov. 19, 1990 – June 1, 1991
Resigned from priesthood July 1, 1993
A member of the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Hogan was ordained in 1984 and named associate pastor at St. Barbara Church in Brookfield. He remained in the Air Force Reserves as a lieutenant/chaplain.
In 1986, a parishioner went to St. Barbara’s pastor, Rev. Donald Hughes, to complain that Hogan “had engaged in improper activities with his [two] sons.”
The accusation forced Hogan to resign his commission in the Air Force but he remained at St. Barbara parish and was named the parish’s administrator in late 1990 after Hughes died following a serious illness.
In March 1991, Hogan applied to be St. Barbara’s pastor. By that time Rev. Russell Romano had been removed from the parish as a result of sexual abuse allegations against him.
But archdiocesan officials demurred. Instead, they assigned Rev. Maurie Kissane to supervise Hogan and learned from Kissane that when he moved into the rectory, there was a “young man of over 18 years old” living in the rectory.
Instead of naming Hogan pastor, the archdiocese wanted him out of St. Barbara’s and ordered him to refrain from being in the presence of minors without another adult being present.
In 1992, Hogan asked for a leave of absence, which the archdiocese granted. A year later, he decided to leave the priesthood.