New Joliet bishop has unique link to Chicago

May 17, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Reverend R. Daniel Conlon is transferring in from Steubenville, Ohio.

In this Intelligence Report: Bishop Conlon comes in with a unique connection to Chicago.

The connection is to one of Chicago's most beloved Roman Catholic leaders, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. Both Bishop Conlon and the late Chicago cardinal are from Ohio. Conlon was ordained a priest by Bernardin in Cincinnati in 1977.

But that isn't the unique part of the connection between Bernardin and the new bishop of Joliet.

Not only was Dan Conlon ordained by Bernardin, but it was Conlon who later led the investigation that exonerated Bernardin in one of the American church's most explosive sex abuse cases.

The year was 1993, Cincinnati, Ohio. Cardinal Bernardin was named in a lawsuit filed by Steven Cook alleging that when he was a 16-year-old pre-seminary student he had been sexually abused by Bernardin and another priest.

At the time, Father Dan Conlon was chancellor of the Catholic archdiocese in Cincinnati. In a letter, Chancellor Conlon admitted that for years church leaders there had been aware and concerned about a "friendly relationship" between Cook and a seminary priest who was accused in the suit of repeatedly sexually assaulting Cook.

"There's a difference between friendship and sexual abuse," Conlon said in 1993.

The investigation that Conlon supervised in Cincinnati resulted in Cardinal Bernardin being cleared and his being dropped from the sex abuse lawsuit. Cook's complaint against Father Harsham was settled out of court and Harsham left the priesthood.

Cardinal Bernardin died in 1996 and Dan Conlon went on to become the bishop of Steubenville, Ohio, the past nine years.

Tuesday, 16 years after leading the church investigation of those allegations that rocked the Chicago church, Conlon comes to the Chicago suburbs as bishop of Joliet.

Bishop Conlon's appointment is being criticized by the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP. The group says Conlon mishandled sexual abuse allegations during his time in Ohio. SNAP also opposed Conlon's election last November as chairman of the U.S. Bishop's Conference Committee to Protect Children, a post he continues to hold.

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