Cardinal George

Cardinal reached out to clerical abuse victims - Went to Rome to lobby on behalf of zero-tolerance policy on abuse

By Catholic New World
Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cardinal George blesses the newly constructed Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago located at Holy Family Church, 1080 West Roosevelt Road, on June 9, 2011. The garden was created as a place of prayer and healing for victim-survivors of clerical, sexual abuse, their families and the greater Catholic Church. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

On the home page of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s website, a link will take a visitor directly to a list of 65 archdiocesan priests with substantiated allegations of sexual misconduct with minors.

Most of the allegations are against priests Cardinal George never met because they died or were removed from ministry before he was installed as archbishop of Chicago in 1997. But he felt the impact nonetheless.

“I used to have perhaps an idealism that couldn’t imagine a priest doing terrible things like this,” he told the Catholic New World in December 2013. “Then when you see the results in the victims, you live with the consequences. I live with that every day.”

During his tenure in Chicago, Cardinal George strove to bring about healing and reconciliation for survivors of abuse, often meeting with them one-on-one. Michael Hoffman said the 45- minute meeting he had with Cardinal George was integral to his healing process.

“It was a very important thing for me that he spent so much time, but that the conversation was so good,” Hoffman told the Catholic New World in November 2014.

In fact, when Hoffman came up with the idea in 2008 of a healing garden for survivors of abuse, he credited Cardinal George for taking a leadership role on the project.

“He didn’t have to do this and yet he did,” Hoffman said. “I think it’s a risk. He took a risk.”

The garden was dedicated in June 2011. Located at Holy Family Church on Roosevelt Road, it features a statue of the Holy Family surrounded by trees, plants and flowers. Plaques placed along a pathway highlight quotes from Cardinal George and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which was first approved in 2002.

Hoffman said he again saw Cardinal George’s commitment to survivors at the archdiocese’s first Mass of Atonement and Hope held at Holy Family in 2012 to mark the 10th anniversary of the bishops’ charter. Cardinal George was being treated for cancer at the time, but still celebrated Mass.

“He could have easily said, ‘I’m tired today. I’m not gonna do this today, I’m undergoing cancer treatments,’” Hoffman said. “And he didn’t.”

However, Cardinal George realized the global sex abuse scandal is a sin the Catholic Church will most likely never escape.

“It’s a burden that is very difficult for the church to carry, let alone to overcome. I’m not sure we ever will entirely,” he told the Catholic New World in November 2014. “This will be part of our collective memory. That’s good if it warns us that even very ‘religious’ people can do terrible things.”

Those terrible things went on display in January 2014, when the Archdiocese released more than 6,000 pages of documents related to cases involving 30 priests accused of sexual abuse as part of a 2006 mediation agreement. Lawyers spent years combing through the documents to remove any information that would violate the privacy of victims. But the details of the alleged abuse remained intact.

In November, the archdiocese released another 15,000 pages of documents relating to another 36 priests who had been accused of abuse.

“The information is upsetting. The information is painful. It’s difficult to read, even without the benefit of hindsight,” John O’- Malley, then director of legal services for the archdiocese, said during a Jan. 15, 2014, press conference, as reported in the Catholic New World. “We believe, however, that this step is an important step in the process of transparency.”

Auxiliary Bishop Francis Kane, then serving as vicar general, acknowledged the archdiocese made some mistakes in the cases, which mostly occurred before 1988.

“I don’t think that any of them were intended to promote or allow child abuse to continue,” Kane said at the press conference. “How we treated people back then is different than we do today.”

The archdiocese in 1992 adopted formal policies for handling sexual abuse of children — one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so.

“We believe that handling these matters in a way that is compassionate toward victims and is focused on finding and telling the truth is the only way to approach this,” Jan Slattery, director of the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, said at the press conference.

In fact, Cardinal George had a hand in getting those norms passed by the Vatican. In October 2002, Cardinal George and three other bishops met with Vatican officials in Rome to seek approval of the U.S. bishops’ zero-tolerance policy proposed in the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

Even though much has been done the pain still exists, as Cardinal George told the Catholic New World in December 2013.

“It’s a permanent sorrow that’s always there,” he said.


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  • clerical abuse

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