Where’s Greeley When We Need Him?

Father Andrew Greeley’s last appearance as a Sun-Times columnist was the morning of Halloween. Going away wasn’t his idea. Mark Hornung, editor of the editorial pages, told us, “It was time for some new and different voices.”

For 12 whole days Hornung might have been right. Then Steven Cook, a former preseminarian dying of AIDS, accused the archbishop of Chicago of performing anal sex on him 17 years ago in Cincinnati. Nothing could have served the Sun-Times better at this point than an old, familiar, but astute voice whose concern for both Cardinal Bernardin and the victims of sexually abusive priests was beyond dispute.

The day after Cook filed his lawsuit the Sun-Times ran a conspicuous picture of Greeley alongside the day’s lead story. In it Greeley asserted, “It’s open season on every priest in America. In this particular case, I have to believe the cardinal.”

A reader could easily have assumed that Greeley did his asserting, perhaps exclusively, to the Sun-Times. Actually, Greeley was in Ireland at the time, and the one Chicago journalist who tracked him down there was Channel Five’s Mary Ann Ahern. Greeley’s good name had been borrowed for a day by the paper that rejected him. Greeley was not pleased.

In due course the Philadelphia Inquirer located Greeley and asked him to write something. Because Greeley appreciates a Chicago audience at least as much as a national one, he wanted this commentary to run locally as well. The Tribune wasn’t interested; the Daily Southtown was. The piece elaborated on what he’d told Ahern.

“For years the leadership of the Catholic Church has tried to protect priests who are guilty of the sexual abuse of children,” Greeley wrote. “Now it cannot protect the innocent, not even the bishop who more than any other bishop has tried to correct the mistakes of the past and end the abuse.”

Greeley did not make too much of this. A Tribune editorial had commented that “as has been widely noted, there is more than a little irony in the fact that this charge has been leveled against Bernardin. He was the first American bishop to wake from the hierarchy’s collective slumber on the issue of clergy sexual abuse, the first to recognize it as an untreated cancer that was costing his church in dollars, members and faith.”

But Greeley wants it remembered that Bernardin wakened only after Greeley had spent years banging the pots and pans. Greeley wrote with tragedy as well as irony in mind. “Since 1986 I have been warning the leadership of the church and the leaders of the organized priesthood that this would happen unless they faced the problem and established a credible review mechanism which would separate the guilty from the innocent. . . . [I believe] the Cardinal is innocent, the victim of networks of evil generated by the follies of past Church policy and by the perhaps sincere efforts of misguided individuals to right what they mistakenly believe is a wrong, from the distant past. The Cardinal is trapped in these networks in such a way that his reputation may never be restored fully this side of paradise.”

This is the wrong time for Greeley to lack a forum in Chicago. He’ll find one, but not the old one.

Wages of Sin

Andrew Greeley wasn’t irritated only by the Sun-Times. He appeared prominently–along with Steven Cook and Cardinal Bernardin–on the CNN special Fall From Grace that aired November 14. But when Bernardin and Greeley were interviewed early last summer they knew nothing of Cook. Neither did reporter Bonnie Anderson. Cook’s harrowing memory was still unknown then even to himself.

Greeley says his praise for Bernardin’s reforms was left out of the program while his harsh attacks on the church were put in: “It’s utterly lost its moral high ground,” he told Anderson. When the show began with Cook’s sensational charge, the effect was of Cook attacking the cardinal and then Greeley wading in.

Greeley ended his Daily Southtown piece by making it clear where he stood. He predicted “a massive Catholic backlash against what will be perceived (rightly or wrongly) as monumental Catholic bashing by the media (particularly by CNN) in which the Cardinal’s word is equated with the word of a man of dubious background and character.”

Anderson responds that if the one priest who more than any other has goaded the media to cover pedophilia in the church now wants to wag a finger in disapproval–well, that’s his right. It’s clearly a time for hard-charging reporters not to get mired in niceties. In Chicago the charge has been led by Channel Seven’s Chuck Goudie, first to come up with the name of one therapist who saw Cook. Goudie writes in his spare time for the archdiocesan paper New World. Does this “good Catholic” activity–to quote a spokesman for his station–throw his objectivity into question? No matter; it’s obviously given him some very handy contacts.

The story reporters like Goudie are trying to unravel is a maddening jumble of the religious, the psychological, the evidentiary, and the political. The one prominent figure in the Catholic church to give Cook the benefit of the doubt is Bernardin’s doctrinal opponent of long standing.

“Just as something demonic hates the innocence of the unborn, and Him from whose hand they come,” wrote Father Charles Fiore, a Dominican priest from Madison, Wisconsin, in the conservative Catholic newspaper the Wanderer, “so there is something Satanic which speaks to destroy the innocent joy and trusting vivacity of the children, the hope and assurance of the future.”

Fiore accuses Bernardin of undermining prolife activities in Chicago, failing to meet the pedophilia crisis head-on, and countenancing a variety of lesser affronts to church doctrine. “There is a spiritual warfare going on for the soul of the Catholic church, especially in the United States,” Fiore told us, “and of necessity the major players are the bishops. Most of the bishops I have met are decent, well-meaning men, in some cases exceptionally fine, good men. But in certain cases one is compelled by their words, by their actions, by their apparent contempt for Vatican and papal teachings to wonder on whose side some bishops are.”

Fiore has frequently counseled victims of sexual abuse. He recently counseled Steven Cook. And when Ed Vrdolyak asked him point-blank on WLS if he thought Cardinal Bernardin was guilty, Fiore said yes, he believed the cardinal was. “I’m not jumping on Bernardin over these accusations because I see them as a convenient way of getting him out of the way doctrinally,” Fiore assured us. “I find Steven Cook to be credible.”

Cardinal Knowledge

Much has been written about repressed memory–i.e., Cook’s failure to know anything about Bernardin’s alleged assault on him until a month and a half ago–and much more is coming. This weekend it’s the subject of a conference at Clark University in Massachusetts. Some of the participants are skeptics, others believers. Sociologist Jeffrey Victor, a skeptic, has read many of the papers that are going to be presented, and he tells us that if there is any common ground it is disbelief in hypnosis as a reliable key to the forgotten.

According to some reports (Mary Ann Ahern says she was told this by several sources), hypnosis helped Cook finally “remember” that he’d been molested by Joseph Bernardin.

Victor, author of a recent book called Satanic Panic, and Jason Berry, whose book Lead Us Not Into Temptation described in detail the Chicago archdiocese’s attempts to squelch accusers of priests (two families were even sued for libel), look at the subject of repressed memory through very different eyes. Victor, for example, admired the highly skeptical cover story on repressed memory in last week’s Time. Berry much preferred the cover story in U.S. News & World Report, which told the tale of a 38-year-old professor who abruptly recalled being molested by a counselor at a summer camp he’d attended as a boy. The professor tracked down the counselor and, according to the article, captured a confession on tape.

Berry thinks the contemporary flood of recollections of ancient sins is wrongly being dismissed as hysteria. “What happens is the media tend to jump on ideas that then become twisted into themes,” Berry told us. “The witch-hunt theme has become fashionable right now.”

Berry and Victor both sympathize with Bernardin and want to believe him. Berry also wants to know much more than he does about Cook. “What was Steven Cook’s life like before he had his experiences in the seminary?” Berry wondered. “Quite often, I found in the research I did, young men who were susceptible, or shall we say vulnerable, to being abused, come out of seriously dysfunctional families. There are absent or alcoholic fathers, overbearing mothers. Lots of these kids were yearning for surrogate fathers. They were abused because they were vulnerable. And those are the kinds of questions that we really ought to be asking about Steven Cook. Who was he before he went into the seminary?”

To Victor, the “crucial information” not yet established concerns Cook’s therapist. “Is he or she an ideological feminist? A Christian fundamentalist? I’d also add–and this may sound very strange–does he have a past history, he or she, of sexual abuse? Because there’s the phenomenon of the wounded healer. People who have suffered particular kinds of past painful experiences may project onto their patients their own problems.”

Victor also wants to know “the context in which the memories were recalled. Were they flashbacks? Visualizations? Fragmentary? Cued? Did they come out of general discussions?”

As for hypnosis, he read from a paper by a University of Victoria psychologist, Stephen Lindsay, that’s going to be presented at Clark University: “Although hypnosis can dramatically increase the amount of information people report about past events, there is a wealth of evidence documenting that the increase is often as great–and sometimes greater–for inaccurate recollections as for accurate ones.”

What a therapist, or a reporter, or a jury must therefore master are the criteria that can be used to distinguish genuine memories from false ones. “I can tell you,” Victor told us ominously, “there are none.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bill Stamets.