Thursday, May 16, 2002

Words from the Shepherds of the Church

First Cardinal Mahoney (May 14th):

My Brother Priests: We have all been overwhelmed for many weeks now with the constant publicity highlighting the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests all across the country. These news reports have been very distressing for us all, but these reports have helped us turn our prayers and our focus to reaching out to the victims with all available spiritual and pastoral assistance.

It is quite likely that very soon the public media will highlight the case of Michael Baker, a former priest of this archdiocese. You need to be aware that such a story could come anytime now, and you need to be aware of the seriousness of his case.

Sometime in late 1986, Baker disclosed to me that he had problems in the past of acting out sexually with two minors.

Baker was sent to a treatment center for evaluation and recommendation for his future. Following treatment, it was decided that he could do specialized priestly ministry not related to children and youth. He was subsequently given various ministries, such as special outreach to our retired priests. All during this time, we had no reports of abuse.

Early in the year 2000 we learned that two men in Arizona were preparing to sue Baker for past sexual abuse. Once we became aware of that situation, he was removed immediately from all priestly ministry in accordance with the policy in effect at that time. Baker agreed to petition the Holy See for laicization, which was granted shortly thereafter. We have now learned that further allegations are being made against Baker.

As your archbishop, I assume full responsibility for allowing Baker to remain in any type of ministry during the 1990s. If I had known in those years what I discovered in early 2000, I would have dismissed him from all ministry and requested his dismissal from the priesthood in the late 1980s.

I offer my sincere, personal apologies for my failure to take firm and decisive action much earlier. If I have caused you or your parishioners additional grief by my handling of the Baker case, I ask your forgiveness.

Such situations illustrate vividly and clearly the reason why our archdiocese now has firmly in place a "zero tolerance" policy--past, present and future. No one who has been determined to have sexually abused a minor can be allowed to serve in any ministry in the church.

I ask your continued prayers as we move through this time of purification.

From Bishop Joseph Imesch (Joliet):

Joliet Bishop Joseph Imesch seemed unfazed as a lawyer questioned him in 1995 about bringing in a priest who had been convicted of molesting an altar boy in Michigan.

"If you had a child," the lawyer recalled asking the bishop during the deposition for a civil suit, "wouldn't you be concerned that the priest they were saying mass with had been convicted of sexually molesting children?"

Replied Imesch, "I don't have any children."

Bishop Joseph Hart (retired):

Hart referred questions to his attorney, who issued a news release Tuesday stating that Hart welcomed the investigation because he wants to "put an end to these false allegations.

"I state clearly, without any equivocation, that I have never engaged in any improper sexual behavior involving minors in my more than 46 years as a priest," Hart said in the statement.