Cardinal's Depositions Shows Good — and Bad

Chicago Sun-Times
August 14, 2008,CST-EDT-edit14a.article

[Note from 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 million.

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 in Rome.

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 31.]

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 memo.

"Norb received a 20-year sentence for a first offense of touching a male minor's genitals over the clothing," the memo states. [See Exhibit 30.]

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 transcript.

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.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.