Cardinal Bernardin

Are you homophobic? If you believe homosexuality is morally wrong, that label may have been hurled at you—that you're nothing but a hate-filled bigot. But we recently saw an example of just how false that label can be. And we also saw a Christian reach out in love and forgiveness to the homosexual who nearly destroyed his life. It all began just over a year ago. Reporters were abuzz with excitement. Rumor had it that a high official in the Catholic Church—Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago—was about to be named in a $10 million sex abuse case. CNN had already taped an interview with the 34-year-old plaintiff, Steven Cook, in which Cook accused the cardinal of sexually molesting him 15 years before. Cook claimed the abuse led him into depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and compulsive homosexual behavior. He was now dying of AIDS. CNN planned to air the interview the day the case was filed. But Bernardin launched a preemptive strike by calling a press conference himself. As flashbulbs popped in his face, the 65-year-old cardinal quietly stated, "I can tell you all my life I have lived a chaste and celibate life . . . I have never abused anyone . . . anywhere, anytime, anyplace." Headlines reported the story across the world. CNN aired Cook's accusations and then followed up with a special on sexual abuse by priests. Newspapers interviewed sex abuse counselors who called Cook a "victim" and praised his "courage" in coming forward. Three months later, the truth came out. Cook admitted that his memories of sexual abuse were "unreliable," that they'd surfaced under hypnosis during therapy. The lawsuit was dismissed, and reporters quickly forgot the scandal. But Cardinal Bernardin didn't forget the young man who'd caused him so much anguish. So in December, Bernardin sought to meet his accuser face to face—not to condemn him, but to seek reconciliation. It turned out that Cook was eager to meet Bernardin—to apologize for the anguish he'd caused him. The two met a few weeks ago at a Philadelphia seminary. In an open letter to the public, Bernardin has revealed what happened during that two-hour meeting. He wrote: "I accepted [Mr. Cook's] apology . . . I then asked whether he wanted me to celebrate Mass for him. At first he hesitated, saying he felt very alienated from God . . . " But a few minutes later, Cook changed his mind. With tears in his eyes and clutching the Bible that Bernardin had given him, Cook said, "Please, let's celebrate Mass." Bernardin wrote: "Never in my 43 years as a priest have I witnessed a more profound reconciliation . . . It was a manifestation of God's love, forgiveness, and healing that I will never forget." This once-sordid story might have ended differently if Bernardin had handed Cook a libel lawsuit instead of a Bible. But Bernardin prayed for the man who persecuted him—and chose reconciliation over revenge. Exactly as Jesus taught. The next time you hear someone bashing Christians as homophobic bigots, tell him about Cardinal Bernardin, the man who forgave his bitterest enemy, brought him healing . . . and led him back to God.


Chuck Colson


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