Chicago Priest's Refusal to Leave Rectory Throws Catholic Church Into Chaos

VIDEO: Father Bill ODonnell has been called a bully in the wake of staff suspensions, resignations.
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A Chicago parish is in turmoil because its beloved priest has balked at his impending removal from the Catholic Church rectory, while his incoming successor, who says he was attacked by a staff member, admits that he shares some of the blame for the disruption.

The Rev. Daniel Mallette, a civil rights and anti-poverty activist, has lived at St. Margaret of Scotland rectory since 1977, but the Chicago Archdiocese ordered him to move out earlier this year because it is in need of repair and is now considered unsafe for the frail but spry reverend. Mallette, 80, was brutally beaten on the church's property by robbers late last year; he recovered from the incident and soon returned to St. Margaret's.

It is part of established church governance in Chicago that a departing pastor lives off the premises for six months after the new pastor arrives, so he can get settled and establish his leadership. The deadline for Mallette to leave the church came and went Monday, and he has yet to vacate.

"I would love to stay where I'm at, and I thought when you became a pastor emeritus, this new pastor would come in and run the parish and I wouldn't interfere with anything," Mallette told ABC News affiliate WLS-TV.

Mallette said the cardinal previously told him that he would be able to reside at the rectory until he dies. But now, he says, the cardinal denies having told him that.

"There was a time I thought that was what he said," Mallette told ABC News today. "He's a good man, and he's suffering. He says he didn't say it.

"I thought I heard him say that I could stay here. It could be that I didn't hear it correctly."

Colleen Dolan, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Archdiocese, told the Chicago Sun-Times that repairs on the rectory that were scheduled to begin Monday have now been delayed.

Dolan has not responded to a request for comment.

Mallette says the rectory is in fine condition.

"I don't see any place that it needs repair," he said.

The kerfuffle over Mallette's departure comes as conflict grows between senior staff at the church's school and the new parish priest, the Rev. William O'Donnell, who arrived at St. Margaret's three months ago.

Rickey Harris, the principal of St. Margaret of Scotland Catholic School, sent a letter to church families Tuesday announcing his resignation. He mentioned his treatment by the Office of Catholic Schools and his "recent suspension by Fr. William O'Donnell."

"The unfortunate events of these last few weeks have caused me to pause and reflect on who I am, my purpose, and whether or not I will allow myself to be disrespected, my integrity questioned and reputation that I have worked so hard to build to be stained with deception and untruths," Harris wrote, adding that O'Donnell questioned his commitment to those he serves.

O'Donnell, however, told WLS Tuesday that it is he who has been subjected to intimidation since his arrival at St. Margaret's, and that a now-suspended school staff member lunged at him twice.

"I was physically intimidated and, in fact, other teachers in the room stepped between us to stop it," O'Donnell said.

Principal Harris told ABC News that he was not present at the time of the alleged altercation, but he was surprised when he heard about it. Although O'Donnell says he was almost attacked, he believes he must share some of the blame over how his arrival at the church has played out, he said.

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