Cardinal Bernardin on the silver screen

A Jesuit priest is turning the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s bestselling “The Gift of Peace” into a movie. Chicago Catholic News has the story:

After sex abuse allegations were recanted against Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in the mid-1990s — and before the cancer that would claim his life was detected — he led a powerful retreat in Mundelein.

“He was emotionally very vulnerable, and somewhat euphoric,” recalled the Rev. Michael Sparough, a Jesuit priest who attended the spiritual gathering.

“He just talked about the trauma and the nightmares he had, and how tremendously stressful this whole thing was, but how the truth was ultimately triumphant.”

“That retreat had a tremendous impact on my life.”

Now, Sparough is leading an effort to bring Bernardin’s story to the silver screen. The 60-year-old priest, who helps run a Barrington retreat center and has written a number of books, is working with two Hollywood script writers to turn Bernardin’s bestseller, The Gift of Peace, into a mainstream feature film.

It’s certainly no done deal, but Sparough said Bernardin’s successor at the Archdiocese of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, has given him permission to turn the book into a screenplay. And Sparough believes the public is ready for a story like this.

“It’s a classic hero’s journey, and I think it’s a story that needs to be told in our time — and my hope is it’s a healing story for those who have been wounded by the Church, and a story that will remind us of some of the best parts of our Catholic tradition,” Sparough said.

In recent years, the Church has been mired in scandal over its handling of clergy sex abuse cases in the United States and around the globe. Pedophile priests were transferred rather than stripped of their duties, and allegations that children were molested often weren’t taken seriously.

The irony, Sparough said, is that Bernardin was considered by many to be ahead of his time in developing policies for dealing with problem priests. And that was before he was accused of abusing a man named Steven Cook when Cook was a student years earlier in Cincinnati.

It’s how Bernardin handled those accusations — made in 1993 and later recanted — that really define “the man, and his story and his life is really a parable of contemporary sanctity,” Sparough said.

Read the rest here.

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About George P. Matysek Jr.

George P. Matysek Jr. is the assistant managing editor of The Catholic Review in Baltimore. View all posts by George P. Matysek Jr.

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