Egan Says He May Have Mishandled Sex Abuse Cases

April 21, 2002


New York Times

Cardinal Edward M. Egan acknowledged publicly for the first
time yesterday that he might have mishandled allegations of
sexual abuse by priests.

In a letter read at Masses in parishes throughout the Roman
Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Cardinal Egan apologized
if mistakes had been made in dealing with abusive priests
and their victims in both New York and Bridgeport, Conn.,
where he was the bishop until two years ago. He also asked
for prayers for the success of a meeting of American
cardinals and Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, for which
he leaves today.

Though the apology was offered conditionally, the letter's
overall tone was more contrite than the cardinal's previous
statements about his role in the scandal. The archdiocese
issued instructions that the letter be read at Masses today
as well, and it posted the letter on its Web site

"If in hindsight we also discover that mistakes may have
been made as regards prompt removal of priests and
assistance to victims, I am deeply sorry," the letter said.

The spokesman for the cardinal, Joseph Zwilling, said the
timing was intended to coincide with the meeting in Rome
but the letter itself was not demanded by the Vatican. The
contents of the letter were reported yesterday in The New
York Post.

"He was absolutely not told to do it," Mr. Zwilling said.
"He wanted to ask people for prayers and to acknowledge the
situation before he departs."

In the letter, Cardinal Egan describes the meeting in Rome
as an "important journey" and denounces the sexual abuse of
children as a terrible crime. "I will do everything in my
power to ensure, as much as is humanly possible, that such
abuse by clergy will never happen again," he wrote. "You
should expect nothing less of me, and the other leaders of
our church."

Several victims of abuse and their lawyers said they were
generally suspicious of Cardinal Egan's motives in making
the remarks now. They suggested that he was putting his
house in order at the last minute in anticipation of some
tough questioning in Rome.

"This statement does sound more compassionate and spiritual
than the others, but it is still done as a form of damage
control," said Cindy L. Robinson, a lawyer who represented
26 people in a recently settled sexual abuse lawsuit
against the Diocese of Bridgeport. "I also think it would
be much more forceful if he would speak it rather than
constantly issuing statements," she said.

Mr. Zwilling said Cardinal Egan would celebrate Mass this
morning at St. Anthony of Padua Church in the Bronx before
leaving for Rome, but it was unlikely that he would read
the letter aloud himself.

At Mass yesterday afternoon at the Church of St. Malachy in
Midtown Manhattan, a priest read excerpts to several dozen
parishioners and made copies of the complete letter
available. Several parishioners said after the service that
they would reserve judgment until the American cardinals
completed their meeting with the pope. Some said they found
it hard to know what was new in the letter because they had
been saturated with information about the sexual abuse

Lorane Walsh, a waitress from Queens who was visiting the
parish before work, praised the cardinal for keeping the
lines of communication open. "He has kept us informed all
along during this troubling time," she said. "This letter
is just another example of that."

One of the parishioners, Colin Adair, interpreted the
letter as a call for spiritual support. "He asks for our
prayers, and that is the least we can do," Mr. Adair said.

Paul Mones, a lawyer in Portland, Ore., who represents
several victims of sexual abuse in New York, said the
cardinal's remarks were significant because they came from
a leader "who has been at the forefront of resisting any
change." But Mr. Mones said the cardinal's reference to
possible mistakes was misleading.

"It is getting off easy to say the behavior of the church
was a mistake," Mr. Mones said. "It was not a negligent,
unthinking action; it was a conscious plan to prevent
scandal and to protect the interests of the church."

In the letter, the cardinal revisited the sensitive subject
of his reliance on advice from psychiatrists on how to deal
with abusive priests. In a previous letter to New York
parishioners, issued last month, he defended his handling
of sexual abuse cases during his 12 years in Bridgeport by
pointing to his policy of sending the priests to "prominent
psychiatric institutions" for evaluation. But in an article
last month in The Hartford Courant, Dr. Harold I. Schwartz,
chief of psychiatry at the Institute of Living, where many
abusive priests were sent, said church officials sometimes
withheld important information about the priests.

In his letter yesterday, Cardinal Egan repeated that he had
relied on the experts, but suggested that knowledge of the
problem of sexual abuse of minors was more complete now.
"Over the past 15 years, in both Bridgeport and New York, I
consistently sought and acted upon the best independent
advice available to me from medical experts and behavioral
scientists," he wrote. "It is clear today that we have a
much better understanding of this problem."