US cardinal accused of sex assault on boy

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ONE of the most influential Roman Catholic clergymen in the United States, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, has been accused in a dollars 10m ( pounds 6.8m) law suit of sexually assaulting a minor in the late 1970s. The Cardinal yesterday denied the allegation saying: 'I have never abused anyone, anytime, anyplace, anywhere.'

The suit against Cardinal Bernardin was filed in a federal court in Cincinnatti yesterday by 34-year-old Steven Cook, who has Aids. He alleges that the Cardinal, and a priest, sexually assaulted him when he was attending a course at a seminary aged 17.

Mr Cook alleges that on one occasion in Cardinal Bernadin's private quarters the then archbishop seduced him with gifts, a book and a framed painting. 'We drank some Pepsis, I was given some very nice gifts and then I was led into his bedroom and he performed anal sex with me,' he told CNN in an interview.

The suit is the latest in a long list of more than 500 accusations against US Catholic clergy over the last decade. A few priests have been jailed and many cases have been settled out of court, costing the church millions of dollars.

In the Cincinnati law suit Mr Cook also charges that the priest at the seminary, a teacher, sexually abused him with the aid of illegal drugs and alcohol. The abuse by both men, says Mr Cook, who recently passed several lie detector tests, severely affected his life. He was sexually promiscuous with men for years, and now has Aids.

'I don't know if you could put words to describe it. What that pain is like. It shatters your world, it shatters your soul, it shatters your life.'

When Joseph Bernardin became archbishop of Chicago 11 years ago his mission was to clean up an archdiocese plagued by financial scandal. Pope John Paul II elevated him to the College of Cardinals a year later.

Yesterday the Cardinal's flock rushed to support him against Mr Cook's allegations, which they felt were motivated by the possibility of financial gain. Cardinal Bernardin has served as president of the US Catholic conference and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.