Akron, Ohio. -- I can tell you why I haven't forgotten a former secretary of labor in the Reagan administration. His name is Raymond J. Donovan, not one of the hot-shots one usually remembers long after they are gone. But remember him I do, for one question to which he got no answer.

Mr. Donovan resigned in 1984 when he was indicted on fraud charges. Three years later, he and several co-defendants were cleared of all charges. The day the jury verdict came down, Mr. Donovan asked of his accusers: "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?"

What brings him to mind now is a case of another man, his name and reputation unjustly besmirched, whose answer to Mr. Donovan's question is an inspiration to all who somehow must survive the wounding of spirit that a false accusation can inflict.

His name is Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Chicago. You may recall that in November 1993, a Philadelphia man named Steven Cook sued the cardinal, charging that the cardinal and another priest had sexually abused him as a teen-ager some 20 years earlier in Cincinnati.

The cardinal denied the charge. In February, Mr. Cook dropped the cardinal from the lawsuit because he wasn't sure of his memory. The charge was dismissed. But the story didn't end.

Cardinal Bernardin sought out his accuser so he could tell Mr. Cook personally that he harbored no ill feelings toward him. The men met for two hours on December 30 at a seminary in Philadelphia, the cardinal accompanied by a priest, and Mr. Cook accompanied by a friend.

Mr. Cook offered his apology for the accusation, and Cardinal Bernardin told him that he had prayed for him daily and would continue to do so. They went to the seminary's chapel, where the cardinal anointed Mr. Cook and said mass. The church is a spiritual family, he told the younger man. "I told him that in every family there are times when there is hurt, anger and alienation. But we cannot run away from our family. We have only one family, so we must make every effort to be reconciled."

Of the experience of reconciliation, the cardinal writes: "It was a manifestation of God's love, forgiveness and healing which I will never forget."

What more can one ask of a priest but that he show the way to heal such anguish as one person can put another through, the deep hurt that Raymond Donovan so poignantly expressed?

"May this story give to anyone who is hurt or alienated the inspiration and courage to be reconciled."

What healing grace, Cardinal Bernardin; thank you.

Laura Ofobike is an editorial writer for the Akron Beacon Journal.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad