Cardinal’s dismaying lapse on sex offender

For several months, Cardinal Francis George appeared to have learned from his failures in dealing with the child sex abuse scandal afflicting the Archdiocese of Chicago.

He apologized repeatedly for the church’s failures in stopping criminal priests from molesting children. In August, he released his own confidential lawsuit deposition, which detailed his failures, as part of a $12.6 million settlement with 16 sexual abuse victims suing the church.

We were encouraged that the cardinal finally seemed to appreciate the depth of the problem and was doing his utmost to resolve it.

That is until this week, when the troubling news came that a Roman Catholic priest who had pleaded guilty to molesting a teenage boy was back working for a publishing arm of the archdiocese after the cardinal had assured his parishioners the man would not be returning to Chicago.

But the Rev. Kenneth J. Martin had returned, making at least seven visits to Chicago in 2007 and 2008, as part of his employment with the church’s publishing company, according to the story by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mike Thomas.

To understand why this is troubling, it helps to understand that this is the third time the cardinal has failed his parishioners in this matter.

In the first instance, the cardinal allowed the priest — who had admitted molesting a former student — to stay at his mansion when the priest was in town and working at the Northwest Side publishing house, starting in 2002.

This began only months after Martin had pleaded guilty to the crime in December 2001. Martin admitted molesting a former student from 1977 to 1980, before he became a priest. He was sentenced to probation.

In his second failure, the cardinal was not candid with a team from the laity review board investigating the child sex abuse scandal in the church.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, a key board member, has said the cardinal never mentioned Martin during her team’s interview with him, though Martin was an occasional house guest of the cardinal at the time.

Burke found out about the living arrangements only when the Sun-Times reported them in 2003.

After that story ran, the cardinal said Martin would “obviously” not be returning to Chicago.

We now know that this did not turn out to be accurate, either.

In an ideal world, the archdiocese could assist its sexually abusive priests, after they served their time in prison, by insisting on rigorous counseling, intensive monitoring and meaningful employment, far from children.

In an ideal world, we could more readily accept the cardinal’s current explanation that he had told Martin not to return to Chicago and present himself as a priest here or stay at the cardinal’s house — and that any work he did for the church’s publishing arm was on that limited basis.

But we live in a world where the church had to be dragged kicking and screaming into accepting it had a problem.

Where the archdiocese’s monitoring of abusive priests has been a devastating failure.

Where time and again, parishioners have felt misled.

In August, the cardinal received praise for the transparency with which he handled the lawsuit settlement. But that transparency is fogging up like a window in January. When first questioned by the Sun-Times about Martin’s return to Chicago, the archdiocese was less than forthright.

Martin no longer works at the publishing company, but left only after his presence was generating more news coverage — a nagging pattern in the cardinal’s management style.

The church’s continued mishandling of the sex abuse scandal is tragic, and not only for those who were abused. It draws attention from the good works the Catholic church and its people do for Chicago every day.

As parishioners in Chicago, like people across the country, lose their jobs or homes, or watch their retirement accounts dry up, they turn to the church for the comforts of faith and tradition, for stability, for a quiet place to pray for a brighter future.

Cardinal George must assure them that their church is a rock.

Chicago Sun -Times