Cardinal Francis George and one of his top bishops are stirring up controversy because of statements they recently made criticizing lawsuits from victims of priest sexual abuse.
In a letter obtained by the Sun-Times, the cardinal earlier this year wrote to the parents of a victim and apologized “for the terrible abuse suffered by your son at the hands of Ken Ruge and Robert Becker,” two Chicago area priests who are now dead.
The cardinal also wrote that money was the motivation for proposed state legislation that would allow adults who were abused by priests as children to sue their perpetrators in cases where statutes of limitation have expired.
“This is irresponsible, is not about the safety of children as the sponsor claims, and is clearly, to me at least, about money,” he wrote.
The victim, who is 35 but was in grade school when he was molested, called the letter outrageous.
“Victims sue for justice, not for fabulous houses,” said the man, who hasn’t sued the Archdiocese of Chicago but is negotiating a settlement. “Nobody wants to live in a fabulous house that reminds you that you were molested by two priests as a boy.”
Survivors say because of the psychological damage of sex abuse, statutes of limitation often expire before victims can come forward.
They also say lawsuits are often the only means to expose pedophile clergy and hold bishops accountable for failing to protect the public.
Officials from the archdiocese did not comment.
State Sen. Terry Link, a Lake County Democrat who introduced the legislation earlier this year, said Monday that the measure isn’t targeting the Catholic Church, but all victims of sexual abuse.
Link, who described himself as a devout Catholic, has heard similar remarks from the cardinal about money being behind the bill, and told him they were offensive.
George is expected to be elected president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at a meeting this week in Baltimore. Never has a candidate been as widely protested by clergy victims, who point to his handling of cases.
After California did away with its statutes of limitation in 2003, more than 500 victims filed suits involving 200 priests in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, which settled the cases for $600 million on the eve before Cardinal Roger Mahony was to testify.
In Illinois, legislation has been delayed, largely because of opposition by the Catholic Church, according to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Paprocki said in a sermon to lawyers recently that abuse suits undermine “the charitable works and religious freedom of the church.” The Chicago bishop, who said he is George’s representative on the review board that scrutinizes abuse allegations, wants some protection for charities.
“This attack is particularly directed against bishops and priests,” he said, adding that the principal force behind the attacks “is none other than the devil.”
In an interview, Paprocki said he wasn’t criticizing victims.
BY SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH Religion Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org