- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

NEW YORK Cardinal Edward M. Egan, facing criticism that he covered up sexual abuse cases in his prior job as bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., has promised to make his case soon in a letter to his flock.
"Sexual abuse of children is an abomination," began the cardinal in a five-paragraph written statement his first public response to a weekend newspaper report accusing him of mishandling sexual-abuse charges in his previous post.
The cardinal did not specify when or how he will explain his actions to the 2.4 million Catholics in his archdiocese, but he said he had been studying the matter and "having completed the review, I am confident that these cases were handled appropriately."
His remarks come at a time when reports of sexual abuse by priests and cover-ups by the hierarchy have surfaced throughout the country.
The specific controversy revolves around a series of sexual-abuse cases that came to light in the 1990s. Damaging details of the cardinal's role in the investigation emerged in a story in Sunday's Hartford Courant.
Quoted from sealed court records, the article claimed that Cardinal Egan, who came to New York in 2000 after serving 12 years in Bridgeport, had allowed priests accused of molesting children to continue working in parishes. He did not inform the authorities of the accusations, the newspaper said.
The cardinal said the Courant article "omitted certain key facts and contained inaccuracies."
The revelations in Bridgeport coincided with a report that a New York priest, the Rev. Henry Mills, was performing his pastoral duties at St. Elizabeth's Church despite accusations in a civil lawsuit that he had engaged in sex acts with a 17-year-old parishioner from 1992 to 1995.
The priest, who denied the accusations, has been celebrating Mass, officiating at weddings and funerals, and at times teaching catechism classes in the Washington Heights church, but not at the parish high school.
The cardinal, a restrained man who keeps the media at arm's length, was firm in protecting the church's right to deal with sexual molestation without the intervention of law-enforcement authorities.
Describing sexual abuse as "immoral and illegal," he said he agreed that such charges should be reported to the proper civil authorities, but only if the parents of the child agree.
"If such allegations are made first to the archdiocese, we will encourage the person making the allegation to report that allegation to the proper civil authorities," he said, adding that "we have to respect the rights of all persons involved, the rights of the accuser as well as the rights of the accused."
This puts him at odds with Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been urging the cardinal to tell his office about abuse charges made over past years about current or retired priests.
The district attorney said he is planning to propose an amendment to current law that would require the clergy "any clergy" to report sexual abuse.
"We feel any citizen has an obligation to report evidence of a crime, and that applies to teachers and doctors and assistant district attorneys and clergymen," Mr. Morgenthau said. "They're responsible people. We expect them to report."
Michael Dowd, who represents plaintiffs in four cases against priests, said, "Nobody's asking the question about how ludicrous Cardinal Egan is in this to say that we're going to let an 8-year-old child decide whether we're or not to pursue an accusation of sexual abuse. C'mon."
Cardinal Egan's reluctance to involve police in all cases sets him apart from many church officials, including Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, who have said they will turn over all charges of sexual misconduct to the police.
Cardinal Law has apologized publicly several times for his part in keeping secret the many cases of sexual abuse that occurred in his archdiocese and the millions of dollars it will take to settle them.


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