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November 19, 1993     The Message
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November 19, 1993

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/ 2 The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana November 11 Cardinal Bernardin denies sex abuse clai CINCINNATI (CNS) w Faced with a $10 million law- suit filed Nov. 12 in Cincinnati accusing him of sexually abus- ing a teen-ager in the 1970s, Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago denied having ever abused anyone. Cardinal Bernardin, 65, said in Chicago Nov. 11, "I state this categorically: I have never abused anyone in all my life anywhere, anytime, any place. " The next morning he told re- porters he was "stunned" by the accusation but said he still had:no details about the law- suit... , Steven Cook of Philadelphia was plaintiff in the suit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincin- nati. He claimed that Cardinal Bernardin/who was arch- bishop of Cincinnati in 1972- 82, and a Cincinnati priest, Fa- ther Ellis N. Harsham, abused him during the period between 1975 and 1977, when he was a minor and a high school stu- diocesan pre-seminary program. Cook claimed the abuse has left him permanently disabled, sexually compulsive and de- pressed. He asked $5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. He accused Father Harsham of having sexually abused him "continually and repeatedly" over the period in question and plied him with alcohol, mari- juana and pornography. He said then-Archbishop Bernardin sexually abused him once during either his junior or senior year in high school, when Father Harsham brought him to the archbishop's resi- dence. At the time of the alleged in- cident, Cardinal Bernardin, al- ready one of the most recog- nized Catholic Church officials in the country, was president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Father Harsham, who was ordained in 1968 and on the faculty of St. Gregory College the years 1975- 77, is currently a campus minister at the Wright State Universil New- man Center, near Dayton. Also named in the lawsuit were: -- Archbishop Daniel E. Pi- larczyk of Cincinnati, who was a Cincinnati auxiliary from 1974 until he succeeded Cardi- nal Bernardin as head of the archdiocese in 1982. -- Father Francis W. Voellmecke, rector of the semi- nary in the mid-'70s and cur- rently on leave from the Cincinnati Archdiocese to serve as a campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Newman Center of Utah State Univer- sity in Logan, Utah. Both were accused of negli- gence in carrying out their du- ties as church officials. Cable News Network re- ported that Cook has AIDS. Lead attorney for Cook was Stephen C. Rubino of Ventnor, N.J. Last summer Rubino rep- resented three men who ac- cused a priest of the Diocese of dent participating in an arch- Seminary in Cincinnati during Camden, N.J., of having sexu- Vatican, U.S. church officials state support for Chicago cardinal By JOHN THAVIS Catholic News Service VATICAN CITY (CNS) Vatican and U.S. church offi- cials expressed full support for Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago and said they did not believe accusations that he sexually abused a teen-ager in the late 1970s. They said the allegations demonstrate how easy it is for a person's reputation to be un- justly damaged before due process can take place. "There is total solidarity with the cardinal at the Con- gregation for Bishops, both at the level of prefect and secre- tary," said U.S. Archbishop Justin Rigali, secretary of the congregation, who spoke by telephone with Cardinal Bernardin after the accusa- tions were made public. Cardinal Bernardin categori- cally denied the allegations, made by Steven Cook of Philadelphia in a $10 million lawsuit filed in Cincinnati. Cook, reportedly an AIDS pa- tient, claimed Cardinal Bernardin and a Cincinnati priest abused him between 1975 and 1977. The cardinal was archbishop of Cincinnati and president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at the time. "Obviously we don't believe this at all. It's extremely im- portant that the cardinal knows he is supported by the Holy See, which is not about to believe these things," said one Vatican official, who asked not to be named. The official said there was "absolutely no reason" for the cardinal to resign, and that the Vatican would not be making its own investigation into the allegations. "The Vatican has complete confidence in Cardinal Bernardin and there is nothing to investigate," he said. He called the accusations and the publicity surrounding them "a tremendous abuse of human freedom" that violates the basic principle that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Another Vatican official who has been involved in studies of sexual abuse by clergy said the allegations against Cardinal Bernardin represented "an at- tack on the church through one of its leading members." "I would give no credibility to these accusations," the offi- cial said. While it is legitimate to make sure all allegations are considered, they should have some evidential weight before being taken seriously, he said. He said the tendency today is to conduct a "moral lynching of people in the press." By the time people show their inno- cence, "they have already been guillotined," he said. "The church is damaged, too, and with it the image of the priesthood and priestly celibacy," he said. One Vatican official said he had written to Cardinal Bernardin to express his sup- port, and that the cardinal was in his prayers. Another official said there was "sympathy and great com- passion" for the cardinal at the Vatican. The accusations cer- tainly appear to be without foundation, he said. The fact that some people may be in- clined to believe them is an in- dication that public trust has been eroded by instances of proven sexual abuse, he said. The Vatican press office had no immediate commenL on the allegations. Privately, officials said they thought the cardinal had defended himself well through his unequivocal de- nials and expressed confidence that the U.S. public would be- lieve him. Vatican Radio, in reporting on the accusations, described the cardinal's strong steps to uncover and deal with cases of sexual abuse by priests in the Chicago Archdiocese. "American Catholics know him as a balanced man, a man of prayer," the radio said. It added, "It has been observed that accusations of this kind are sometimes made against U.S. priests in order to obtain compensation money." In Washington, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Balti- more, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bish- ops, supported Cardinal Bernardin Nov. 15, the open- ing day of the U.S. bishops' meeting. Just as one case of sexual abuse is too many, he said, "one case of unfounded allega- tions is one too-many," Arch- bishop Keeler said. He recalled that earlier this year two women dropped charges against Bishop Gerald F. O'Keefe of Davenport, Iowa. The women claimed Bishop O'Keefe had sexually abused them 30 years ago, "based on a claim of suppressed memory," as are the allegations against the cardinal. After Archbishop Keeler's re- marks, the bishops gave Cardi- nal Bernardin a 45-second standing ovation. Cardinal Bernardin thanked the bishops for their support and asked, "Remember me in your prayers." Other U.S. church leaders also issued statements of sup- port. In Cincinnati Nov. 12, Arch- bishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk said he believed the accusations against Cardinal Bernardin "are rubbish and deserving of nothing but contempt." Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles said he knew Cardinal Bernardin "too well to believe that any of these outrageous allegations could have any basis in fact." "I fear that we are reaching a new level of contempt when anyone can bring unfounded charges against church leaders of such integrity," he added. ally abused them. That suit was recently settled out of court, but the terms of the set- tlement were not disclosed. At a news conference in Chicago Nov. 12, Cardinal Bernardin said the charges against him were completely false and he does not remem- ber ever meeting Cook. "I don't remember this man at all," he said. "It leaves me in a state of bewilderment." "Everything that is in that suit about me, the allegations, are totally untrue. They are to- tally false," he said. "I'm 65 years old and I can tell you all my life I have lived a chaste and celibate life," the cardinal said. "Those who know me know my life has been an open book," he said. In Cincinnati Archbishop Pi- larczyk said he viewed the ac- cusations against the cardinal as "rubbish and deserving of nothing but contempt." He said the archdiocese was informed in July of the allega- tions against Father Harsham and investigate "We found upon which to allegation and so .... Cook's attorney," he:! "Therefore, no further were taken under the' diocesan) Decree on Abuse." "We did not sations against Bernardin until they were made by on television. I rubbish and deserving! ing but contempt," th bishop said. He said the would "continue to the whole issue of as sensitively and as we can," but he no further co lawsuit itself "given of the proceedings been initiated." Contributing to were Jay Copp in cia Hempel in Jerry Filteau in "SERVING ELBERFELD AREA SINCE 1911 WITH DEPENDABILITY DIGNITY & DISTINCTION Three Locations To Serve You IMPSON- E r " E li -" FUNERAL HOME 424-9288 iil 100 E. COLUMBIA, EVANSVILLE IMPSON FUNERAL HOME 853-8314 : ii  510 JENNINGS, NEWBURGH ]IMPSON- 00OLKMAN !i  i! FUNERAL HoMI ! 983-4211 ELBERFELD, IND.