Cardinal George: Letter to local Catholics wasn’t ‘critical’ of Bernardin
by brian slodysko Staff Reporter January 19, 2014 4:36PM
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin | Sun-Times files
Updated: February 21, 2014 6:24AM
Cardinal Francis George on Sunday pushed back against claims made by advocates for Catholic sex abuse victims, who say George has tried to escape responsibility for the handling of ex-priest and convicted sex offender Daniel McCormack by blaming his late predecessor.
The letter “wasn’t critical of Cardinal [Joseph] Bernardin at all,” George said of his deceased predecessor, following a pro-life rally Sunday in the Loop. “I don’t see how that can be said.”
In a letter to the faithful, distributed at Masses across the city Jan. 12, George announced the impending release of thousands of pages of documents, the result of a court settlement with victims, that detail the Church’s handling of sex abuse allegations against priests between 1950 and 1996.
But George also addressed the handling of McCormack, whose alleged abuse of children occurred on George’s watch, between 2001 and 2006, while McCormack was stationed at St. Agatha Parish on Chicago’s West Side.
In the letter, he also addressed the church’s response to McCormack, who was convicted of abuse allegations while he was a parish priest at St. Agatha.
In the missive, George points to Bernardin’s role in promoting the now-defrocked priest, noting that Bernardin ordained McCormack and later elevated him to a “position of trust.”
That drew a response the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who said George’s letter was largely self-serving .
“This letter is a way for him to escape his own personal responsibility,” Kate Bochte, a member of SNAP, said last week. “He’s trying to wash his hands of any accountability and he’s blaming Bernardin for ordaining” McCormack.
On Sunday, George said that is simply not the case. He added that McCormack was a charismatic priest who misled many people, including church officials.
“You get someone who led a double-life and [McCormack] charmed a lot of people all they way down the line from the time he was ordained,” George said Sunday. “There are a lot of very good people who were deceived. And that’s not too unusual, but the reputation he had was a very, very good one. And I think that’s important to acknowledge.”
In court filings, several abuse victims have blamed George for ignoring allegations lodged over the years against McCormack, who was sentenced to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2007 to abusing five children.
George said during his tenure, the Archdiocese of Chicago has seen great reform.
“Deception is evil and we should all be on alert. And I think we are now, with so many people trained to recognize signs of sexual abuse. But that wasn’t the case then,” the cardinal said.