Cardinal's Depositions Shows Good — and Bad
August 14, 2008
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: This editorial contains references
to the deposition
of Cardinal Francis E. George. Below we have added links to the deposition
and its exhibits.]
Because Cardinal Francis George is a good and decent man, so it is all
the more disheartening to learn just how horribly he failed his parishioners
and their children in the church's child sex-abuse crisis.
The details are revealed in a confidential court deposition released Tuesday
as part of an agreement to settle the legal claims of 16 victims for $12.675
The cardinal's 305-page deposition shows what he is — and is not.
George is not one of cardinals who covered up for pedophile priests by
transferring them from church to church, one step ahead of scandal, supplying
fresh victims along the way.
He is not, in short, Cardinal Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, now ensconced
George's failures are more managerial than moral, but grave enough.
When faced with allegations that his priests were abusing children, George
was too slow to act, too tied to procedure, too willing to trust advisers
who misled or misinformed him, time and again.
The cardinal's deposition — as well as church letters and documents
— chronicle his errors.
Most stunning were the efforts by the cardinal and the archdiocese to
secure favors and an early release for Chicago priest Norbert Maday, who
had been sentenced to prison for 20 years for sex crimes.
In 2000, George wrote to Maday: "Hopefully, some good souls will
see that the six years of incarceration you have already endured are enough
to satisfy the state and any sense of justice." [See Exhibit
Maday's trial had taken place before George came to Chicago, and the cardinal
was poorly served by an adviser who minimized Maday's crimes in a 2000
"Norb received a 20-year sentence for a first offense of touching
a male minor's genitals over the clothing," the memo states. [See
In fact, Maday was convicted of molesting two boys. Two other victims
testified at Maday's trial. Maday had threatened one victim that he would
kill the boy's brother if he told what happened. Not a prime candidate
for early release.
Later, as George emphasized in his deposition, the archdiocese learned
about more Maday victims — dozens in all — and the church
reversed course, urging officials to keep Maday in prison.
For that action, George should be commended. But it shows a disturbing
trend in which George and his church do the right thing only when matters
reach a crisis in a climate of aggressive media coverage and litigation.
In other cases as well, George was ill-served by his advisers who either
kept him in the dark, revealed to him only half truths or worked behind
the scenes to protect child-molesting priests.
At times, the advisers behaved more like defense attorneys for R. Kelly
than servants of Christ.
Still, there is a fine line between being fooled and being a willing fool.
Now the cardinal must show his resolve to end this nightmare of pedophile
priests — no more equivocations and half-measures — by surrounding
himself with people strong enough to bring him bad news and ugly facts.
And he must strip those who served him poorly of all power and position.
On a broader level, George must stamp out any lingering institutional
cynicism within the archdiocese toward victims' lawsuits — the view
that the court battles are motivated by money, not justice.
The cardinal deserves praise for agreeing to make his deposition and related
church documents public, as do the victims for insisting upon their release.
The archdiocese could show its continued commitment to transparency by
releasing the videotape of George giving his deposition, not just the
Such openness is a critical step toward healing, which in turn will only
strengthen the Catholic Church in Chicago, which despite this scandal,
has served its flock and this city so very well.
The cardinal has repeatedly apologized for his failures.
Now let's see what he's learned.