Cook Clears Bernardin
Harsham Lawsuit Stays
By David E. Kepple
Dayton Daily News (Ohio)
March 1, 1994
CINCINNATI — A federal judge Monday dismissed allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago at the request of the man who accused Bernardin and the Rev. Ellis N. Harsham of Beaverecreek of sexual misconduct.
In a motion filed in U.S. District Court, Steven J. Cook, 34, of Philadelphia, said he "now realizes that the memories of sexual abuse by Cardinal Bernardin which arose during and after hypnosis are unreliable.
"Because (Cook) can no longer be sure that his memories of abuse by the Cardinal are true or accurate, he no longer wants to proceed with these claims," the motion said.
Judge S. Arthur Spiegel granted Cook's request and dropped Bernardin as a defendant in the $ 10 million lawsuit filed Nov. 12.
In a statement later at his Cincinnati attorney's office, Cook said he dismissed the claims of his own free will and with no pressure or threats from anyone.
"I am doing this because it is the right thing to do," Cook said. "I have not asked for nor have I been offered anything in exchange for what I am doing."
Attorneys for Cook said he will proceed with claims against Harsham - who runs a campus ministry program at Wright State University - as well as against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, among other defendants. Pilarczyk and the archdiocese are accused of negligence.
The case is scheduled for trial May 9. Cook, who has full-blown AIDS, and his attorneys sought a speedy trial for fear he would die before the lawsuit was resolved.
A buoyant Bernardin talked about the dismissal with reporters in Chicago after Spiegel's ruling.
"The travesty was that I, a man of 65 years, who has been a priest for 42 years and a bishop for 28 years, was publicly humiliated before the world - an innocent man," Bernardin said. "That's a travesty."
But the cardinal said his vindication by Cook was better than winning a court case, because Cook himself "reached the conclusion that the allegation (was false) and he willingly dismissed the charges."
He also repeated an offer he made shortly after the filing of the lawsuit, to meet and pray with Cook.
"For whatever reasons," Bernardin said, "he did not respond to that letter. But the offer still stands." He said he has no intention of filing a countersuit against Cook.
Cook accused Harsham of repeated sexual abuse, and contends archdiocesan officials were negligent in employing and supervising Harsham. Both Bernardin and Harsham have maintained their innocence from the start.
Cook was a minor taking part in a pre-seminary program at St. Gregory's Seminary in Cincinnati when the sexual abuse allegedly occurred between 1975 and 1977. Bernardin was the archbishop of Cincinnati at the time, and Harsham was in residence at the seminary, where he served on the faculty.
According to Cook's lawsuit, the abuse caused psychological harm that resulted in his repressing memories of the abuse by Harsham until 1992. Indeed, the lawsuit stated he only recalled Bernardin's alleged sexual abuse in October 1993 - one month before the suit was filed.
However, attorneys for Cook entered discussions with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in July 1993 - months before the suit was filed - concerning Cook's allegations of misconduct by Harsham. At the same time, Cook also recalled Harsham having taken him to Bernardin's private quarters, but made no mention of sexual abuse by Bernardin.
Cook's claim of sexual abuse by Bernardin surfaced only with the filing of the lawsuit in November.
Harsham, contacted at his campus ministry office Monday, read a statement from his attorney, Thomas Miller, but declined to elaborate.
"In laymen's language," Harsham's attorney said in the statement, "the mere fact that Father Harsham remains a party to this action should not be used to validate any remaining allegations. Nor does it alter Father Harsham's complete and categorical denial of the allegations."
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Benardin's successor as archbishop of Cincinnati, issued a statement congratulating Bernardin on the dismissal.
"In November I described these charges as 'rubbish and deserving of nothing but contempt,' " Pilarczyksaid. "I continue to consider them such, and I am happy that the cardinal is no longer being subjected to them."
The Archdiocese of Cincinnati declined further comment.
At his press conference in Chicago, Bernardin said he would not make any judgments concerning the ongoing allegations against Harsham.
"I'm confident that ultimately the truth and justice will prevail in that case," Bernardin said. "But I think it would be inappropriate, since it's still pending, for me to say any more."
An intent Cook smiled only once during his brief press conference in Cincinnati, in response to a question about his health, and nodded to his attorneys. "His health is fine," said attorney Stephen Rubino.
Cook said he'll continue to press his case against Harsham. "My hope is that other victims of abuse will not be deterred from coming forward because of what is happening here today.
"It has always been my intention to do the right thing," Cook said. "I filed the lawsuit against (Bernardin) because I had vivid memories of abuse which I believed to be true.
"Based on information I have learned since filing the lawsuit, I now realize that the memories which arose during and after hypnosis are unreliable," Cook said. "In fact, if I knew at the time I filed the lawsuit what I know now, I would never have sued Cardinal Bernardin."
Rubino said a witness recently came forward who made Cook realize the memories evoked under hypnosis were "unreliable." He would give no further details about the witness, who will testify at the trial.
Summary of events in the lawsuit filed by Steven J. Cook against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and several church officials:
*Nov. 12, 1993: Steven J. Cook, 34, of Philadelphia sues Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago and the Rev. Ellis Harsham of Beavercreek, along with other church officials, claiming the two men sexually abused him when he was a high school student in a pre-seminary program at the old St. Gregory Seminary in Cincinnati. Both priests deny the claims.
*Nov. 17: About 40 people rally in support of Harsham at Wright State University, where he now runs a campus ministry program for the archdiocese.
*Carroll students speak: Some former Carroll High School students say Harsham showed them pornographic films and exhibited other questionable behavior at Carroll, where Harsham taught from 1968 to 1973. Later, other ex-students say Harsham seduced them or attempted to seduce them. All but one of these students is quoted anonymously. Harsham denies the allegations.
*Harsham denies involvement: In a letter to Cook's attorneys, the Rev. Daniel Conlon, chancellor of the Cincinnati archdiocese, says Harsham admits he once gave Cook part of a pornograhic film, but denies any sexual involvement. Conlon, who investigated Cook's claims, also says Harsham was removed from his teaching position at St. Gregory in 1977 because of an incident of sexual behavior with an adult seminarian. Conlon concludes, however, that there are too many doubts to substantiate Cook's claims.
*Trial date set: U.S. District Judge Arthur Spiegel sets a May 9 trial date.
*Credibility is key issue: The credibility of Cook's memories, elicited in therapy under hypnosis, emerges as a key legal issue. Defense attorneys say the therapist is not a licensed psychiatrist and Cook had no memory of any recollection involving Bernardin before the therapy sessions.
*Cook drops allegations: Cook asks to drop his allegations against Bernardin saying, "I filed the lawsuit against (Bernardin) because I had vivid memories of abuse which I believed to be true. . . . Based on information I have learned since filing the lawsuit, I now realize that the memories which arose during and after hypnosis are unreliable."
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