Smyth, one-time Maryville leader, accused of child sex abuse

The Rev. John P. Smyth, a well-known Chicago-area priest and one-time leader of Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, faces allegations of sexual abuse of minors, Archdiocese of Chicago officials said Friday.

The allegations, which pertain to the 2002-2003 span during the end of Smyth's tenure at the academy, were received by the archdiocese's Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, according to a statement from the archdiocese.

Jeanine Stevens, the attorney who represents the two men making the allegations, said one was 13 and the other was 14 when they were molested.

One of the boys came forward shortly after the molestation occurred, Stevens said.

"Nobody believed him and nobody did anything about it," she said.

Both boys had been placed at Maryville's Scott Nolan Center by a judge, she said.

"They were permanently harmed," she said. "Both of these men came from unstable households. This significantly compounded issues they already had to deal with."

She said the boys eventually shared their stories while both were incarcerated years later. One is still incarcerated, she said.

She said both boys, who grew up on the South and West sides of Chicago, came into contact with Smyth when he visited the Nolan facility and also had them over to Maryville to play basketball. Smyth would also take them on such activities as whitewater rafting, she said.

Smyth, 84, couldn't be reached for comment at a Des Plaines-based nonprofit that bears his name and where he is executive director - the Rev. John P. Smyth Standing Tall Charitable Foundation. However, his attorney, Frank DiFranco, told the Chicago Tribune the allegations were false and that the accusers were looking for a payout from the Catholic Church.

"What really happened is they have two guys sitting in the penitentiary thinking of ways to make money, and this is what they came up with," DiFranco told the Chicago Tribune.

Cardinal Blase Cupich asked Smyth to step aside from ministry after the allegations were received, and his faculties to minister in the archdiocese have been withdrawn, the archdiocese's statement said.

The archdiocese said the allegations were reported to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Cook County State's attorney's office, in accordance with the archdiocese's child protection policies.

Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office, said she could neither confirm nor deny there is an investigation.

Smyth continued living on the Des Plaines campus of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe next to Maryville after his departure as academy superintendent in 2003 and as a board member in 2004, and until recently he presided over 11 a.m. Sunday Masses in the shrine's Marian chapel.

Smyth will live away from the campus while the archdiocese investigates the allegations, officials said.

Marcy Jensen, a Maryville spokeswoman, said Smyth has had little contact with the Des Plaines-based child care organization since he stepped down from its board, but for two public occasions officials there can recall.

Smyth, a first-round NBA draft pick in 1957 who chose the priesthood instead, is inextricably linked to the history of Maryville, where he arrived in 1962 for his first assignment as a priest. He served as assistant superintendent until his appointment as superintendent in 1970, where he became known for his networking skills and hosting fundraisers that made the institution financially solvent.

And though at the time he reformed the care of children with the establishment of small group homes on the site, critics in later years pointed to Smyth's refusal to embrace modern clinical methods for treating troubled youths. In September 2003, the state pulled all of its wards from the 272-bed campus after the suicide of a 14-year-old girl, two sexual assaults, repeated violence and problems with youths running away. The FBI also opened a probe into potential federal health care fraud, though no one was ever charged.

Amid mounting pressure, Smyth stepped down as director in December 2003 but later railed against the Department of Children and Family Services, accusing it of "turning off the faucet" on child welfare.

Smyth also worked as president of Notre Dame College Prep, an all-boys high school in Niles, from 2007 to 2014.

After leaving Maryville, Smyth established his charitable foundation in 2005 to raise funds for educational and vocational training scholarships, and still remained involved with that in recent months, attending luncheons, golf outings and other fundraisers, according to the organization's Facebook page.

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