Lawyer Group Plans Priest Scandal Forums

Chicago Tribune

By Aamer Madhani, Tribune staff reporter

(May 4, 2002) At the request of Cardinal Francis George, the Catholic Lawyers Guild of Chicago will hold a series of hearings to collect public comments before the U.S. bishops meet in June to discuss how best to handle sexual abuse by priests.

David Hartigan, president of the lawyers guild, said he and other group members do not yet know when, where or how many meetings will be held. George will not attend the sessions, which will be held at locations throughout the archdiocese.

“What we’re trying to do is get him as much information as possible, and if he were to attend, that would not be possible,” Hartigan said Friday. “He was absolutely willing to attend the meetings, but I told him no. We want the meetings to be as balanced as possible.”

George broached the idea of the meetings on Wednesday, Hartigan said.

In recent days George has taken a series of actions to fend off criticism as the archdiocese re-examines its abuse policy. The cardinal met for more than an hour Friday with Cook County State’s Atty. Richard Devine to discuss issues related to sexual assaults by priests, including the reporting process and possible prosecution. The state’s attorney’s office expects to complete a review of old archdiocesan abuse files this month.

Barbara Blaine, president of a victims support group, applauded George for calling the meetings but warned victims who might speak out at the sessions to be cautious.

“I’m optimistic that he’s going to use these meetings to educate himself and that he’s open to change,” she said. “But I also think victims should be careful not to say anything at these meetings that lawyers for the archdiocese might collect to defend themselves.”

George isn’t the first cardinal to solicit the opinion of the laity on the scandal. In Boston, Cardinal Bernard Law scrapped the agenda at a March meeting of 2,500 parish council members and used the event to hear their concerns. Several asked him to resign.

Since then, “listening sessions” led by the laity have been going on throughout the Boston archdiocese, said Anne Barrett Doyle of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics, based in suburban Boston.

“They’re incredibly worthwhile because [they] give the Catholics a chance to speak out about their anger and pain,” she said.