The glare of the camera lights showed the anguish on Joseph Bernardin’s face as he arrived at the annual meeting of U.S. Catholic bishops last November in Washington, D.C. The highly respected 65-year-old cardinal of Chicago, the largest archdiocese in America, had just been
accused of sexual abuse by a former seminarian. After 43 years as an ordained priest, Cardinal Bernardin would later describe the months that followed as "the worst experience of my life."
Under treatment with an unregistered Philadelphia hypnotist, Steven Cook thought he remembered Bernardin molesting him when he was in seminary in Cincinnati, where the prelate had been the archbishop. There was no other evidence.
Cardinal Bernardin has earned a reputation as a man above reproach. Known as good, decent, honest, and humble, Bernardin rose through the ranks of the Catholic Church. In every position he has held, as priest, bishop, archbishop, cardinal, and then general secretary and eventually president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, he has performed well with no hint of scandal around him.
Bernardin probably became best known for pioneering the vision of "the seamless garment," a consistent ethic of life that applies to every social issue, including nuclear weapons, abortion, poverty, euthanasia, and capital punishment. In doing so, Bernardin helped many Catholics and other Christians transcend the predictable political categories of left and right on a variety of controversial questions. Bernardin also chaired the crucial committee that developed the ground-breaking pastoral letter on nuclear weapons issued by the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1983.