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By Manya Brachear Pashman, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Lawyers began recording the testimony of Cardinal Francis George on Thursday amid a widening scope of sex-abuse allegations against defrocked Roman Catholic priest Daniel McCormack, a precaution taken in the event that Chicago’s archbishop’s health prevents him from testifying in a future trial.

George announced in March that doctors discovered new cancer cells in his right kidney — his third cancer diagnosis in eight years — and underwent chemotherapy. Last week, a day after McCormack was arrested on new charges of sexual abuse, George disclosed that the search for his successor has begun and a new archbishop is expected to be named by late fall.

John O’Malley, a lawyer for the archdiocese present at Thursday’s filming, said recording an evidence deposition is “routine in court cases where the witness is elderly or has health issues.” Lawyers for the archdiocese as well as nine plaintiff’s lawyers will have a chance to question the cardinal during the process.

But unlike the rambling question-and-answer sessions conducted during the discovery phase of litigation, the deposition started Thursday was more formal and could be shared with a jury. If the cardinal is available at the time of trial, he will take the stand instead.

“We’re attempting to prove our case,” said Lyndsay Markley, an attorney for one of at least two dozen victims who still have pending lawsuits alleging abuse by McCormack. “Cardinal George is a central part of that.”

McCormack, 45, was removed from the priesthood after pleading guilty in 2007 to charges of criminal sexual abuse involving five victims. He has been incarcerated in a state mental health facility since completing his five-year prison sentence. He was arrested again last week and held without bail in a detention center after a new allegation surfaced that McCormack abused someone in 2005.

Lawyers in the room said the question-and-answer session never got hostile or adversarial. The deposition is expected to continue Tuesday. Only two of the nine plaintiff’s lawyers there Thursday got to ask questions.

In August 2008, George released the transcript of a sworn deposition detailing how the archdiocese handled the McCormack case. In that deposition, George revealed under oath the missteps that led to McCormack’s tenure at St. Agatha Catholic Church on Chicago’s West Side years after initial allegations of misconduct surfaced during his seminary days.

The arrest of McCormack spurred the archdiocese to commission an independent 2006 audit of what went wrong in the case. George has participated in at least two other sworn depositions.

“Given the number of victims there are, he’s incredibly remorseful that he failed to take the actions that he should’ve taken,” Markley said. “However, remorseful after the fact doesn’t correct it.”

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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