February 12, 2005

Calvert House priest resigns following sexual allegations

The University's Calvert House—the Catholic center on campus—became the latest stage for a sex scandal involving a Catholic priest on Tuesday, February 8. Father Michael Yakaitis announced his resignation Tuesday afternoon after a man came forward on Monday to name Yakaitis as the priest with whom he had a sexual relationship 15 years ago.

Claiming that Yakaitis sexually exploited him when he was a seminary student at the Niles Seminary College of Loyola University in 1990, the victim drafted a letter to University President Don Randel on Monday, alerting him of Yakaitis's past. The victim—then 18 years old—said in his statement that Yakaitis was both the dean of students and his own spiritual director until 1991, when the student dropped out of the seminary.

"While functioning in those roles, Father Yakaitis used alcohol, coercion, and blackmail with me to initiate a series of sexual encounters. There is no question in my mind, nor expressed to me by the various representatives of the Archdiocese of Chicago with whom I addressed these incidents, that these actions by Father Yakaitis were unethical, abusive, and emotionally devastating," the victim wrote. "These incidents took place in a university setting while Father Yakaitis held a position similar to the one he currently occupies at the University of Chicago, and during which time he exploited this position of trust while I was a student under his direction."

In a press release issued on Tuesday, Yakaitis acknowledged the truth of the former seminarian's account, and said that following the events that transpired 15 years ago, he sought and received counseling and treatment. "This enabled me to renew my commitment to celibacy and a life of priestly ministry," read the statement. "Since that time, I have not engaged in any sexual behavior, and I believe that I have dealt thoroughly with the issues that led to my sexual actions."

Regarding the position Yakaitis has held as chaplain and director of the Calvert House at the University, the priest said that accepting the appointment "was not a wise decision in view of my past history."

It remains a puzzle how a priest with Yakaitis's past was placed into another university community, raising a series of questions for the Chicago Archdiocese. In accepting Yakaitis's resignation on Tuesday, Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago, said that he regretted the appointment of Yakaitis to a ministry with college students. "I will review the process that led to my decision to permit Father Yakaitis to work in college ministry, and will take the steps needed to correct any errors in that process for the future," read the official statement.

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) noted that this is not the first time George has violated the U.S. bishops' guidelines on abuse. He asserted that George had allowed a Delaware priest who had pled guilty to abuse in Maryland to work in the archdiocese. "Father Yakaitis should be fired today, period," Clohessy said in a press release on Tuesday. "His flock deserves some straight answers, and Father Yakaitis's victims deserve a strong public apology." He added that University parents should be outraged.

Alison Boden, dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, expressed her sympathy for University Catholic community following the news of Yakaitis's resignation. "What a painful time this is for the Calvert community," she said. "It is very, very difficult to endure such a breach of trust and confidence. They have the bottomless support of all us in the religious organizations on campus; we hold them deep in our prayers."

Students passing by the Calvert House on Ash Wednesday were approached by a National Public Radio news crew, soliciting their reaction to Tuesday's events. Many students were as yet unaware of Yakaitis' resignation, and Nicholas Lund-Molfese, coordinator of the Ministry of Education for the Archdiocese of Chicago, was on hand to talk to distressed students inside the center. Lund-Molfese, visibly fatigued and losing his voice, welcomed students into his office to talk about the events that had lead Yakaitis to resign.

"I was really relieved when I found out it was 15 years ago," said Brian Hague, a second-year in the College, of Yakaitis' relationship with the seminarian. As a regular patron of Calvert House, Hague said he had always thought of Yakaitis as a holy priest. "It made a lot more sense, but it still seems like a bad dream. I couldn't believe it was actually happening." Hague said that he feared Catholics in the community would use this as a reason not to go to church.

Father Willard Jabusch will serve as interim chaplain and director of the Calvert House, a position he occupied for a number of years before Yakaitis was appointed in 2001. Boden called Jabusch's appointment "a positive move."

"Father Jabusch already knows this community well and will be just the caring pastoral presence that we need right now," she said. The length of Jabusch's appointment will be determined by the Archdiocese.

Greg Kulevich, a third-year in the College who had worked closely with Yakaitis at the Calvert House, was surprised but not shaken by the news. "My opinions regarding Father Mike have not changed," said Kulevich, who works as the coordinator for the 11 a.m. mass and the server for the 2 p.m. mass at Calvert House. "I have nothing but respect for Father Mike, especially when I look at all he has done for Calvert House and the Catholic Community of Hyde Park. Now that he is gone, Calvert House will not falter, and I will make an effort to continue Father Mike's mission."

Joe Tonna, a fourth-year in the College currently studying abroad in Barcelona, was distressed by the news. "Nothing would make me anticipate something like this, and I find it hard to believe given what I know of him," Tonna said. "Furthermore, this does not change the fact that he is still my dear friend and that I support him."