Open Letter to Cardinal Cupich of Chicago

 

Your Eminence:

Many of us watched the speech you delivered via video at the “Religion, Faith, and Flourishing” symposium about the sexual abuse of children. We recognize that you represented our Church at this important event, as the highest-ranking prelate to address the conference.

In your speech, you claimed that “the voice of the sex-abuse survivor must be our Church’s true north.” You extolled your own virtues as a bishop and the excellence of the administrative apparatus of your archdiocesan corporation. And you singled-out one of your predecessors, Joseph Bernardin, as a hero.

Bernardin Newsweek

You went on to say, “Imagine if all the bishops had followed Bernardin, how much further ahead we would be in preventing abuse and punishing offenders, how many children might have been spared.”

In 1993, Mr. Steven Cook accused Bernardin, as well as another priest, then-Father Ellis Harsham, of sexual abuse. In your speech for the symposium, you solely recounted Bernardin’s version of the events surrounding that accusation, and you neglected to mention important statements by others.

The fact is that, by twelve years later, no one disputed that Cook rightly identified Harsham as an abuser. Cook ultimately stated that he could not trust his memory regarding Harsham’s associate Bernardin—at least he could not trust it enough to move forward with a lawsuit. Bernardin then immediately rushed to the microphones to announce to the world that Cook had “recanted” and “the justice system has publicly affirmed my innocence.”

Bernardin went on to claim that a Chicago priest had urged Cook to make the accusation. The priest has insisted that is untrue. Bernardin told the public that he had always been “chaste and celibate.” The late Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe declared that he knew that was untrue. Bernardin claimed that he and Cook “reconciled” shortly before Cook’s untimely death. We only have Bernardin’s word on that.

In other words, Your Eminence, you extolled in your speech the heroism of the self-proclaimed hero, using only his version of events as your source of information.

But the late Cardinal is an eminently questionable source for the truth of the matter. (Pun intended.) Another reasonable interpretation of the Cook-Bernardin Affair is: Cook took a secret cash settlement in exchange for withdrawing his public accusation against Bernardin. We know from the Vatican’s McCarrick report that such a practice was used to silence the sex-abuse victims of high-ranking prelates at that time.

In the summer of 2019, James Grein publicly accused Bernardin of having abused him. A year earlier, Mr. Grein’s public testimony had led to the Vatican “trial” of Theodore McCarrick, the procedure that resulted in McCarrick’s involuntary removal from the clerical state.

Was Grein’s testimony about McCarrick true, but his accusation against Bernardin false? Is that what you have concluded? If so, on what grounds have you reached that conclusion?

A friend of mine has spoken with another sex-abuse victim of Bernardin’s. That survivor is still trying to recover, quietly, a half a century later.

Haven’t you insulted the intelligence of your audience by presenting only Bernardin’s version of the events of the Cook-Bernardin Affair? Doesn’t your audience deserve to know that the question of Bernardin’s guilt is, in fact, not really settled at all?

McCarrick and James

You referred repeatedly in your symposium remarks to the year 2002. That year, then-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick made many public speeches about how the Church had solved the sex-abuse problem. We believed him; we trusted in our prelates. Turns out that McCarrick belonged in jail at the time.

Is there any question that McCarrick and Bernardin were friends? Is it not the case that Grein’s assertion about Bernardin could very well be true? Aren’t we supposed to believe survivors?

All that said, let’s concede for a moment—for the sake of argument—that your predecessor Joseph Bernardin did not, in fact, abuse Steven Cook. Do you not recognize nonetheless what the Cook-Bernardin Affair of ’93-’94 did to sex-abuse survivors across the country? How it cost them advocates in the media? How it led many to question their own memories? How it hurt their self-confidence and left them in the shadows? How can you talk in one breath about seeing Jesus in the sex-abuse survivor and then in the next breath celebrate the Cook-Bernardin Affair as if it were some kind of golden moment?

There is also substantial evidence that Bernardin regularly covered-up for sex-abusing priests in Cincinnati and Chicago. Also, his roommate and “buddy” in his home diocese of Charleston. S.C., was ultimately convicted for sex abuse of minors.

There is more. Your address at the symposium relied on the idea that the U.S. Bishops’ Dallas Charter made national policy that solved the sex-abuse problem in the Catholic Church. That is, the secrecy and cover-up that has made many reasonable people all over the world think that our Church is corruptly governed.

In December of 2018, however, your Attorney General in Illinois offered her advice about fundamental flaws in the Dallas Charter. She pointed out how imprecise the terms are, the terms that you bishops use in dealing with sex-abuse cases. She showed in her report how the process you extolled in your symposium speech is actually full of dangerous gaps that have left many survivors out in the cold.

It has been over two years since A.G. Madigan offered her advice. You met privately with her successor in office the following year. Have the U.S. bishops taken any steps to address Madigan’s helpful points? If so, why don’t we rank-and-file Catholics know anything about those steps?

Your Eminence, many of us Catholics are struggling to hold onto our loyalty to our beloved Church. It would help us if you would reply with clear answers to the questions I have asked you. After all, as you yourself put it in your speech, “full accountability is a universal non-negotiable.”

Yours in the Lord,

Father Mark White

Collinsville, Virginia

Little While

How many days since Easter?

What happened forty days after the Lord Jesus rose from the dead?

But do we have to wait until Sunday for Him to go to heaven? No. He is already in heaven. He has been for 1,980 years.

As we read today at Mass in this ecclesiastical province, according to Him, that counts as ‘a little while.’

A little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later, and you will see me. (John 16:17)

Lord, it’s been 1,980 years!

Which counts as a little while when viewed from either of two points-of-view.

1. From the point-of-view of Almighty God, for Whom a thousand years are like one day. He began it all; He keeps it all going; He will conclude it at the perfect moment—the best-possible moment. Then, we will see exactly why history lasted as long as it did and not one second longer or shorter than it should.

2. Now, I said that there was another point-of-view from which 1,980 years looks like ‘a little while.’

cuaYou know, a week from Saturday, our dear seminarian for this coming summer, Mr. Kyle O’Connor, will receive his Bachelor’s Degree from the Catholic University of America.

It will be a Saturday in May, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington will be sitting with all the other assembled dignitaries on the east steps of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the graduates will line up in their caps and gowns in front of beautiful McMahon Hall, and the brass pipes and strings will begin to play pomp and circumstance…

It’s all as vivid in my mind as if it were today, because I was there myself. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences handed me a Bachelor’s diploma, too, on a Saturday in May, beneath the inscription on the transept of the basilica, where it reads, “faith is the substance of things hoped for…”

The thing is: When that happened to me—like just yesterday, like I can still taste the cold Yuengling I drank that evening with my mom and dad and brother and aunt… On my graduation day, Kyle was three years old.

Nineteen years ago. It could have been this morning.

Which means that 1,980 years ago could have been three and a-half months ago, according to that calculus.

Lord, come back when You are good and ready! Make it today! Or tomorrow. We can wait a little while longer.

Another Beloved Poem

While we are on the subject of poetry, here is a poem that was published in the Catholic University Art & Literary Magazine back when I was an undergraduate in 1993.  I memorized it then, and it has been a companion since.

 

These are the woes, and rues, and lamentations

of the shackled mind,

too gentle to communicate,

too gentle to rend the air with

profession, protestation, or sound;

too gentle to cleave the minds of others

and make space in which to put

concerns and declarations, argument, refutations;

too gentle to speak in any language

but the eyes’ whispers,

words within words

the lonely non-sounds of waiting.

 

These are woes without expression:

they contemplate the desert

          and the starkness of its reds;

they contemplate the streetside

          and its barking and its roars.

They contemplate the sadness that drips from words exchanged by lovers without recourse but to burst—

          cups run over, words splash to the floor,

          lapped up with thirsty tongues to wet

          the parch these woes would wet with a wordless kiss.

 

These woes and rues and lamentations of the gentle mind,

its own master,

will not disturb the air.

They are quieter than night;

they move like clouds.

They and their coldness will be left outside at daybreak

          to run with the dogs.

Heat and light will fill them, and they will silently disappear.

 

I think that the secret of the resolution of the poem is prayer and the love of God.  Of course, it is good to communicate with other people.  Communication is important.  But sometimes it is difficult to find the words…