For the second time this year, Cardinal Cupich has reinstated a priest to his parish after the priest was cleared of sexual abuse charges by government and church investigations. Father Pat Lee, pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish, 708 W. Belmont Ave., returned to the rectory June 16 after stepping aside in January following an allegation from 40 years ago, when he was serving at St. Christopher Parish in Midlothian. In January, Father Gary Graf returned to San Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio Parish after being cleared of allegations that he had inappropriate contact with a minor the summer before. Lee said the parish staff welcomed him back with open arms. “I wasn’t at the Masses where the letter (of reinstatement) from Cardinal Cupich was read, but the parish staff told me the people clapped and cheered,” Lee said. In the letter to parishioners, Cardinal Cupich reminded them that the church must remove priests when there are allegations against them, but it also must do everything possible to restore the priests’ good names when allegations are not substantiated. “These have been difficult days and months for you as a parish,” the cardinal wrote. “You have shown great patience as each jurisdiction has completed its process. I thank you for doing so. Father Lee has also suffered, as you well know, but he has offered that suffering freely, convinced of the need for us as a church to keep our word that the protection and safety of our children remains the priority. … “Healing now must be the pathway forward for all of us. Father Lee shares this very same sentiment and you can honor him by doing everything to make sure that a spirit of reconciliation and unity prevails as you move ahead with the efforts of Renew My Church to make your parish vibrant, vital and sustainable. In this way, the mission of Jesus can flourish. That is my prayer for you.” Lee said his quiet homecoming gave him time to adjust after spending months away from home. “It was wonderful to sleep in my own bed,” Lee said. “I slept all the way through the night for the first time in 5½ months.” Lee said he was blindsided by the accusation and that when he was told the name of his accuser, he did not recognize it. He spent the time away with family and living in an apartment a friend had available, getting up early every morning to pray the Divine Office and 15 decades of the rosary, going to Mass and spending time in eucharistic adoration. “I was nervous,” he said. “I was mostly concerned about, how do you prove something didn’t happen 40 years ago?” The support of family and friends, as well as parishioners at former assignments who wrote to say they believed he was innocent, helped, he said, as did frequent prayer. Read the cardinal’s letter at archchicago.org/statements.