Chicago Prelate Calls His Cancer Terminal
Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin calmly announced Friday that doctors expect him to die within a year from the pancreatic cancer he has fought for 14 months.
“I can say with all sincerity that I am at peace,” said Bernardin, the 68-year-old leader of Chicago’s 2.3 million Roman Catholics.
Bernardin had been given less than a 25% chance of surviving for five years after surgery for pancreatic cancer in June 1995. He said Friday that tests showed the cancer has spread to his liver.
“We can look at death in two ways, as an enemy or as a friend,” Bernardin said. “As a person of faith, I see death as a friend.”
Bernardin has spent much time since his surgery counseling hundreds of cancer patients, telling them “to place themselves entirely in the hands of the Lord.” In the same quiet voice that has become his trademark, he said he will try to take his own advice.
Bernardin took over the prominent Chicago archdiocese, the nation’s second largest after Los Angeles, in 1982. As the senior ranking Catholic official in the U.S., he has tried to build bridges between the church’s conservative leaders and its more liberal U.S. followers.
He steered the U.S. church toward anti-nuclear activism and staked out positions on AIDS, ordination of women and sexual abuse by priests--a charge that was leveled briefly at him.
In 1993, Stephen Cook claimed in a lawsuit that Bernardin had molested him while he was in high school and Bernardin was archbishop of Cincinnati. Cook later said his allegations were false and had been caused by a faulty memory. He dropped the lawsuit and reconciled with Bernardin before dying of AIDS last year.
Earlier this summer, Bernardin announced an effort to reconcile Catholic factions divided over issues such as abortion, birth control and the role of women in the church. Other church leaders criticized the move, saying it could leave Catholics confused about church teachings.
Some people fear that Pope John Paul II may appoint a more conservative successor to Bernardin.
Bernardin’s physician, Dr. Ellen Gaynor, said he has chosen to receive chemotherapy with a new drug, gemcitabine, in the hope of improving the quality of the time remaining to him.
“I intend to continue to be the pastor of the archdiocese until the end,” said Bernardin, who has told church officials in Rome of the diagnosis. “I think I will have a number of good months--how many, I don’t know.”
Bernardin even joked with reporters, saying the crowded news conference would have fit better at the United Center, site of this week’s Democratic National Convention.
In Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony saluted Bernardin’s “spiritual fortitude” and said, “His gentle and peaceful manner in accepting his mortality speaks volumes to all peoples of goodwill who struggle with the limitations of our human frailty.”
On behalf of “all the people of the archdiocese of Los Angeles,” Mahony promised Bernardin “our fervent prayers and our complete support . . . as you prepare for the final portion of your life and faith journey.”
Bishop Anthony Pilla, president of the National Conference of Bishops, said Bernardin “has endured this suffering with great faith, hope and love, and--true pastor that he is--he has used his time of sickness to reach out and comfort other victims.”