The late Cardinal Bernardin talked about his search for peace in the book he wrote before he died entitled, “The Gift of Peace.” In it is a gripping and moving account of his meeting with Steven Cook, the young man who had accused Cardinal Bernardin of sexual abuse. It is an event best forgotten except for the extraordinary way it concluded.
In 1993, the accusation became public and Cardinal Bernardin had to live with the curiosity of the public, the constant media attention and deep pain of experiencing his credibility and integrity questioned. Many people assumed that an accusation was the equivalent to being guilty.
Mr. Cook acknowledged the charges were false, and the courts dropped the case. The cardinal plunged back into his busy schedule but he kept thinking about Steven Cook, his accuser, now critically ill with AIDS, living alone.
So Cardinal Bernardin did a most remarkable thing. He found Mr. Cook and invited him to meet at a seminary outside Philadelphia. Cardinal Bernardin explained that his only reason for wanting to see Mr. Cook was to tell him that he, Cardinal Bernardin, harbored no ill feelings. He wanted to pray with him.
Steven Cook accepted that invitation and said that he wanted to apologize for the hurt and embarrassment he had caused. When the meeting happened, Mr. Cook told his story, including his alienation from the church. They talked for a while. The cardinal said what he had come to say, and he gave Mr. Cook an inscribed Bible and offered to celebrate Mass.