Sex-abuse case against cardinal is dropped

ACCUSATIONS of sexual abuse against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago were abruptly dropped when his accuser admitted that he had only recalled the incident under hypnosis 15 years after it took place. Steven Cook, who had sued the Cardinal for dollars 10m ( pounds 6.7m) last year, said his memory was unreliable.

Cardinal Bernardin, who joins a growing list of those who have been accused of sexual abuse on slender evidence, said he felt 'totally vindicated . . . I think the cloud is gone. The accusation received a great deal of publicity, but so did the vindication'.

Mr Cook, 34, filed suit last year, alleging that Cardinal Bernardin, then Archbishop of Cincinnati, and another priest had sexually abused him between 1975 and 1977, when he was a pre-seminary high- school student. He said that after leaving the seminary he became addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex and now has Aids.

Although Mr Cook's accusations were denied by the Cardinal, they got respectful media coverage. The collapse of the case may further discredit 'memory enhancement' techniques employed by therapists and hypnotists to elicit buried memories of abuse.

Cardinal Bernardin, one of the best-known Roman Catholic leaders in the US, said he had been 'totally humiliated' by the suit. He said: 'As far as I'm concerned, this chapter is ending. I harbour no ill-feelings towards Steven Cook. I have compassion for him. I have prayed for him every day, and I will continue to do so.'

Mr Cook said: 'I'm doing this because it is the right thing to do.' He had asked his lawyers to drop the suit against the Cardinal and agreed no deal had been done by the archdiocese of Cincinnati. He is still suing the Reverend Ellis Harsham for allegedly abusing him when he was at the seminary. Mr Cook added: 'If I knew at the time I filed the lawsuit what I know now, I would never have sued Cardinal Bernardin.'

Juries are increasingly sceptical of accusations of sexual abuse, particularly where the victims claim they long suppressed the memory and are demanding a lot of money. Therapists and specialists, sometimes of dubious expertise, are also under attack for manipulating witnesses. The American Medical Association says memory enhancement is 'fraught with problems of potential misapplication'.

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