Cardinal's Supporters Speak up
More Than 100 Allies Rally at Holy Name

By Jamie Francisco and Jon Yates
Chicago Tribune
February 13, 2006,1,6133851.story?coll=

Waving hand-painted signs and chanting words of encouragement, more than 100 Catholics rallied in support of Cardinal Francis George on Sunday, hours after many local pastors read a letter in which George apologized to parishioners for his handling of a recent priest-abuse case.

Organizers said the rally, on the steps of Holy Name Cathedral on the Near North Side, was designed as a response to critics who have called on George to step down amid his handling of the abuse allegations.

"People hate Cardinal George because he stands for the truth. This is the truth," said Chicagoan Kelly Ames, talking through a bullhorn and waving a rosary made of redwood beads. "We cannot lose him. We cannot let people get him down."

Ames later said George has "been taking most of the blame, and he is in 100 percent support of all the victims."

Removing George is not the answer, she said. "The answer is chastity, faith, hope and obedience."

The rally was held just hours after mass most parishes, where many pastors read a letter by George addressed to the laity.

In the letter, George stated that the archdiocese has worked hard in recent years to protect children and to remove priests accused of abusing them.

The archdiocese has had "a deservedly good reputation" in responding to the priest-abuse crisis, George stated, but the case against Rev. Daniel McCormack "undermines all of this now."

Church officials chose to monitor McCormack rather than suspend him after learning of an allegation against him. McCormack continued as pastor of St. Agatha until he was charged last month with sexually abusing two minors.

"I must apologize to all of you for the great embarrassment every Catholic must now feel in light of the media scrutiny of these events," George wrote. "In particular, I am deeply sorry for the pain of those Catholics who are part of St. Agatha's Parish."

The archdiocese also had monitored Rev. Joseph Bennett, pastor of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in South Holland, for nearly a year while investigating abuse allegations that were more than 35 years old. The archdiocese removed Bennett on Jan. 31.

George wrote that the archdiocese will use outside experts to help examine the McCormack case.

"We will work to be more immediately responsive and to move cases along more quickly," George wrote. "... I pray that a failure to act more quickly on my part will not harm the archdiocese itself. You are in my prayers; please keep me in yours."

George, who presided over mass Sunday at St. Ambrose Parish on the South Side, said after the service that the letter was sent to all parishes, but it was not required to be read by all priests.

"It's just an attempt to try to keep people informed as much as we possibly can," he said. "The more information that is shared, the better off we are."

George said he also sent a second, private letter to his priests, asking them to come forward if they have done anything that could be seen as going against God.

"I said they should step forward because we can't have anyone leading a double life," George said.

He said the letter was never meant to be made public, but anyone who reads it should know that the priests are "overwhelmingly faithful men."

"Every once in a while, something terribly sinful and perverse happens but that's not the norm," George said.

The cardinal said he was not consulted about the rally in his honor, and he did not attend.

"Of course it's nice to find support in a difficult moment. I'm grateful for that," George said. "I would hope that any gathering would be a gathering to pray for the Lord's help and forgiveness and not become another source for controversy."

Controversy, however, seemed unavoidable.

The rally, organized by a group called Catholics for the Cardinal, also drew members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

SNAP members handed out fliers urging George's supporters to remember victims who have been harmed by pedophile priests.

"The cardinal is going through a difficult time," said Peter Isely, Midwest director of SNAP. "But he's one of the most powerful men in Chicago, and we have to focus on the children."

Isely said he hoped SNAP and Catholics for the Cardinal could come together and advocate for the children who were targeted.

"The top priority is to stop kids from being abused and to stop victims from being discouraged," Isely said.

The two groups interacted amicably, and members of SNAP left before the rally officially began.

At times, the gathering in support of George sounded a bit like a high school pep rally.

"Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Cardinal George! Cardinal George!" the group chanted. In between, his supporters recited Our Father and Hail Mary.

Northwest Side residents Pablo and Liz Bottari-Tower attended the gathering with their 1-year-old son Christopher, who has met the cardinal twice.

"He's a straightforward man," Liz Bottari-Tower said. "If there's a problem, we need to correct it, and he's already taken the measures. I don't see what else he could do."


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