Cardinal Dropped from Sex Abuse Lawsuit
Steven Cook, 34, filed a $ 10 million lawsuit Nov. 12 in Cincinnati claiming that Bernardin and the Rev. Ellis Harsham of Beavercreek sexually abused him from 1975 to 1977 when he was a high school student attending a program at a Cincinnati seminary.
Bernardin, now cardinal of Chicago's 2.3 million-member archdiocese, was Cincinnati's archbishop at the time.
"I harbor no ill feelings toward Steven Cook," Bernardin told a news conference in Chicago. "I have compassion for him. I have prayed for him every day, and I will continue to do so."
Cook also accused the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and archdiocesan officials, including current Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, of negligence for allowing the alleged abuse.
Only Bernardin was dropped from the lawsuit, which is to go to trial May 9.
Bernardin, Harsham and the other defendants have said repeatedly they did nothing wrong.
Cook's lawsuit said he waited more than 15 years to make the allegations because he had repressed memories of the sexual abuse and only recently began recalling them.
But on Monday, he asked U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel to drop Bernardin as a defendant, saying in a court filing he was no longer sure if memories that arose during hypnosis "are true and accurate."
Cook told a news conference at his attorney's office in Cincinnati that he had obtained information since filing the lawsuit that convinced him his memories were unreliable. He would not say what that information was.
"In fact, if I knew at the time I filed the lawsuit what I know now, I would never have sued Cardinal Bernardin," Cook said.
His lawyer, Stephen Rubino, would not discuss the case in detail but said a witness recently "was made available to Mr. Cook that got us to this point." He would not identify the witness.
Asked if it was a mistake to sue Bernardin, Rubino said: "Looking in hindsight, yes."
Lawyers for Cook and Bernardin told the judge that Cook voluntarily dropped the charges and was offered nothing by Bernardin.
"No compromise, no deal, no settlement. I must emphasize the fact that it was the plaintiff who asked for the dismissal of these charges," Bernardin said.
Bernardin said he had been "preoccupied" by the lawsuit even though he knew he would ultimately be vindicated. He also said his case shouldn't deter the church from paying attention to such accusations.
"If there's an accusation of sexual abuse against anyone, priest or otherwise, I think that that accusation has to be taken seriously. And I also think, in the final analysis, truth will win out," he said.
Bernardin said he had no plans to countersue Cook.
"As far as I'm concerned, this particular chapter is ended. What Steven Cook has said is enough for me," he said.
Thomas Miller, a lawyer for Harsham, told the judge that dismissal of the charges against Bernardin does not mean the allegations against Harsham are valid.
"The mere fact that Father Harsham remains as a defendant does not, not in any way give validity to these allegations," Miller told the judge.
Harsham could not be reached for comment. Messages were left for him at the St. Luke Catholic Church rectory in Beavercreek, where he lives, and the Neuman Center at Wright State University, where he is a counselor.
Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk said in a statement that he was pleased Bernardin was dropped from the lawsuit, but did not comment further on the archdiocese's status as a defendant.
Cook, who lives in Philadelphia, is a substance abuse counselor who left his job at a psychiatric hospital in February 1993. He said he became addicted to alcohol, drugs and sex after leaving the Cincinnati seminary. Cook said he tested positive for HIV in 1990 and is now dying of AIDS.
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