Illinois priest accused of child sex abuse has gone missing

CHICAGO (AP) - An Illinois priest under criminal investigation for sexual abuse has gone "absent without leave" from his Augustinian order, according to a church official.

Sister Mary Ann Hamer, assistant treasurer for the Province of Our Mother of Good Counsel, said Friday that the Rev. Richard McGrath moved out of the St. John Stone Friary in Chicago sometime in the last couple of months on his own accord.

The 72-year-old McGrath was removed from public ministry in 2017 and assigned to the friary while police investigated "potentially inappropriate material" on his cellphone. The reassignment occurred so the order could supervise McGrath and ensure he didn't have unsupervised access to minors, according to the Rev. Anthony B. Pizzo, prior provincial of the Midwest Augustinians.

The investigation closed after McGrath refused to turn in his phone.

Another investigation opened in January into allegations that McGrath sexually abused a student in the 1990s at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, which he led for more than 30 years as the principal or president.

The Archdiocese of Chicago, which can ultimately control who lives at the friary because it's within the archdiocese, later requested that McGrath no longer reside at the facility after discovering the sexual abuse allegations.

The Augustinians began making preparations to relocate McGrath, but McGrath moved to another residence that's not affiliated with the order, Pizzo said.

McGrath's absence is illegitimate under Augustinian canon law, which means that while he's still a priest, he's no longer an agent of the order, Pizzo said.

McGrath's attorney, Patrick Reardon, didn't comment on where McGrath relocated, but said McGrath left because he felt like "a liability to the Augustinians." He said McGrath believes he's done nothing wrong.