Release of Cardinal George's Deposition Revealing
By Margaret Ramirez and Manya A. Brachear
August 16, 2008
[Note from BishopAccountability.org: This article contains references
to the deposition
of Cardinal Francis E. George. Below we have added links to the deposition
and its exhibits.]
When Cardinal Francis George released his deposition on the sexual abuse
scandal last week, he offered an unprecedented look into the Roman Catholic
Church's shameful actions and also into his own mind.
Many Catholics were appalled to learn the cardinal worked to reduce the
20-year prison sentence of a convicted child molester, Norbert Maday.
Others were infuriated by evidence of his repeated refusal to follow recommendations
and promptly remove abusive Chicago priests from ministry.
In his own words throughout the testimony, he often appeared deeply conflicted
between his concern for children and his duty to defend accused priests.Even
so, some who have advised the U.S. bishops on the scandal said the cardinal's
agreement to make his deposition public could prompt a significant shift
in the church hierarchy's thinking.
As president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, George is the
most influential leader in the American church and only the third American
cardinal to be deposed in sex-abuse litigation. He is the first to voluntarily
release a transcript.
"The reason this scandal was as devastating as it was, was there
wasn't transparency in the beginning, not because they were coddling criminals,
although that was the impact," said Robert Bennett, a Washington,
D.C., lawyer and former member of the National Review Board, a watchdog
panel of Catholics formed by U.S. bishops in 2002.
"The church with all its wonderful qualities—one of its not so wonderful
qualities is its adherence to secrecy, which has certainly contributed
to the problem."
The deposition was released Tuesday by the Chicago archdiocese as part
of a $12.7 million settlement involving 16 victims and 11 priests. During
eight hours of questioning on Jan. 30, the cardinal revealed missteps
in the cases of Maday, Daniel McCormack and Joseph Bennett.
In the deposition, George also traced his growing awareness of clergy
sexual abuse as he rose through the ranks of the Roman Catholic Church.
After George entered the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, the Vatican
released a document in 1962 regarding the solicitation of sex inside confessionals.
In that document, the Holy See called on priests to confide in Rome when
they discovered a clergy colleague had asked for sex before, during or
after hearing an account of a parishioner's sins. But it wasn't until
the mid-1980s that he first heard an allegation of a priest who had abused
a minor. [See Deposition
The magnitude of the crisis became clear in 2002 when the sexual abuse
scandal revealed that dozens of abusive priests had been left in ministry,
only to become serial predators. Prior to that, any priest with allegations
against him was allowed to remain in partial or restricted posts.
"I think in the studies that I read after 2002 I came to that conclusion
for the first time," George said in the deposition. "All those
formed in my mind the conviction that the recidivism rate was too great
to ever chance allowing someone to recommit this crime." [See Deposition
But by the time he became Chicago's archbishop in 1997, George had apparently
become convinced sexual abuse was mostly a thing of the past.
He couldn't fathom a Daniel McCormack. When McCormack was arrested in
January 2006, George said: "We thought this was done, or at least
contained," referring to clergy sexual abuse. "This is something
that I have to live with because it's a terrible crime and it was on my
watch," he said in the deposition. [See Deposition
The impact of the cardinal's recent action remains unclear. Some hope
it will inspire other prelates to follow his lead, thereby restoring trust
and inviting parishioners once violated by their priests to reconcile
with their childhood church.
"While it's a milestone on one hand, the road ahead is very long,"
said Timothy Lytton, an Albany Law School professor who wrote "Holding
Bishops Accountable: How Lawsuits Helped the Catholic Church Confront
Clergy Sexual Abuse."
"The cardinal's rhetoric about protecting victims and showing compassion
to perpetrators and pastoral concern for incarcerated priests omits the
theme on people's minds," Lytton said. "That theme is: What
is the institutional church going to do to hold officials accountable?"
Victims advocates remain cautious and say change can only come by disciplining
those officials who covered up for abusive priests.
In the deposition, George disclosed that the vicar for priests, Rev. Edward
D. Grace [see Deposition
p. 123], and Auxiliary Bishop George J. Rassas [see Deposition
p. 117] withheld information about abuse allegations.
Grace coached Joseph Bennett on how to handle questions involving a victim's
knowledge of Bennett's private parts, according to a memo included in
the deposition. Grace also advised McCormack not to talk to police when
first arrested in August 2005, the cardinal said. [See Exhibit
118 and Deposition
"History has shown that very little changes the behavior of the hierarchy,"
said David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests.
"But history has also shown that exposing secrets does protect kids,
prompts victims to come forward and prods Catholics and citizens to look
at religious figures with a much healthier skepticism," Clohessy
said. "Real change could come about if the cardinal demoted church
officials who concealed abuse."
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke said she was not surprised by
the cardinal's decision and commends it as a step in the right direction.
"He's a man who takes time to think things through," said Burke,
former head of the bishops' National Review Board.
"I knew he would come to this eventually. Because all the facts are
there that would bring him to it. It's hard to deny them."
From the Deposition
Cardinal Francis George was asked about Norbert Maday, a former priest
serving a 20-year prison sentence for sexual abuse, and letters from the
cardinal to Maday were introduced:
Letter from George to Maday dated March 6, 2000: "As you know, we
are trying to make some definite effort to have a sentence reduction in
your case. Hopefully, some good souls will see that the 6 years of incarceration
you have already endured are enough to satisfy the state and any sense
of justice." [From Exhibit
Letter from George to Maday dated Feb. 4, 2002: "We have tried a
number of avenues to see if your sentence might be reduced or parole be
given early. So far, we have not had any success but we'll keep trying
and I personally hope that you will not lose hope." [From Exhibit
Q: Did it ever ["ever" is not in the deposition] occur to you
in 2002 what it would mean to the victims ... if you had been successful
in facilitating [the] early release of this convicted offender?
George: That fact that he would never function as a priest again was
what most of the victims I spoke to were most concerned about, not whether
he was in prison or not. [See Deposition
Q: Why is it, Cardinal, that you can write directly to the perpetrators
... when you don't write directly to these victims at the beginning of
George: Because somebody has to tell me information that I might base
a letter on and it isn't always sure what a victim will make of such a
letter. Sometimes, victims resent being addressed by a bishop out of the
blue. We ask the victim when can the cardinal apologize, when can the
cardinal come into the process. That is asked right at the beginning.
Why the cardinal changed his mind about Maday: "We were getting
a number of allegations and I began to realize that this man had seriously
abused many, many innocent children. ... [and] his continued denial."