January 31, 1997 in Nation/World

Priest Denies Fomenting Scandal Against Bernardin

Associated Press

A priest Thursday denied he encouraged a man to falsely accuse Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of sexual abuse, as the cardinal suggested in memoirs published after his death.

“I categorically deny that I had anything to do with him filing the lawsuit naming Bernardin,” the Rev. Charles Fiore said.

Bernardin, a church moderate who died last fall, said in his memoirs that a right-leaning priest may have urged a young man named Steven Cook to sue Bernardin in 1993 for sexual abuse. Bernardin did not name the priest, but Fiore acknowledged this week that he is the one the cardinal was referring to.

Cook withdrew the allegations against Bernardin in 1994, saying his memory was unreliable. Cook died of AIDS in 1995.

Fiore said he spoke with Cook only once, just two days before Cook sued. Cook “asked me a number of questions strictly as a priest,” said Fiore, who has counseled victims of abuse by priests. “I answered his questions.”

Fiore said he still believes Bernardin was guilty, despite the withdrawal of the lawsuit.

“Steven Cook never recanted what he said,” the Lodi, Wis., priest said. “His statement was, ‘I can no longer trust my memory,’ which is a far sight from saying it didn’t happen.”

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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