A Roman Catholic priest accused of fondling young boys pleaded guilty Monday to five counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse and was sentenced to five years in prison.

The Rev. Daniel McCormack was accused of abusing five boys ages 8 to 12 in the rectory of St. Agatha Catholic Church, where he served as parish priest. He could have been sentenced to seven years.

He declined to make a statement in court.

Assistant State's Attorney Shauna Boliker said that by reaching a plea deal with McCormack in exchange for a shorter sentence, prosecutors spared the victims from having to testify.

McCormack, 38, also taught algebra and coached boys basketball at the nearby Our Lady of the Westside School. Some victims were members of the basketball team; others were friends of boys who attended the school, according to prosecutors.

The Archdiocese of Chicago drew intense criticism over its handling of the case. McCormack was not removed from the West Side parish and school until after he was charged in January 2006, several months after one of the allegations was made against him.

Cardinal Francis George conceded he failed to act soon enough.

Now that McCormack has entered a guilty plea, George has instructed his staff to begin the process of removing him from the priesthood, according to an archdiocese statement.

"The sexual abuse of children is a sin and a crime," George said in the statement. "When the abuser is a priest, the whole church is affected."

Attorney Marc Pearlman, who represented several of the victims, said he was disappointed McCormack did not receive a harsher sentence.

McCormack's defense attorneys declined to comment.

Police took McCormack into custody and investigated an accusation against him in August 2005 but released him, saying there was not enough evidence to pursue the case.