The National Review Board: for Show or for Real?

By Barbara Beckwith
Downloaded June 9, 2003

Four members of the board explain how they are holding the U.S. bishops accountable.

The centerpiece of the U.S. bishops' effort to deal with the sexual-abuse crisis was the creation last June of a National Review Board, composed of influential laypeople.

The 13-member board is chaired by Frank Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma. Others on the board are similarly high-powered: politicians (Leon E. Panetta), judges and attorneys (Anne M. Burke, Robert S. Bennett, Petra Jimenez Maes, Pamela D. Hayes), doctors of psychology and psychiatry (Michael J. Bland, Paul R. McHugh), canon lawyers and professors (Nicholas P. Cafardi, Alice Bourke Hayes), business leaders (Ray H. Siegfried II), communications specialists (William R. Burleigh) and activists (Jane J. Chiles). Many are parents and grandparents.

All are active Catholics who say they accepted this responsibility because they love the Church deeply and feel they can help in this crisis. As Burleigh, the retired chairman and CEO of Scripps Howard who coordinates communications for the board, put it, "When you are asked to help, how can you say no?"

Questions about this board have arisen: Are those appointed to it committed? Are they too political? Are they too busy to do the work? Are they simply out to preserve the Church's reputation at the expense of the victims? Do they really have the backing of the bishops and the power to do the job?

Article #9 of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People says that the review board will report directly to the bishops' conference president, currently Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Illinois. All the members were appointed by him.

The National Review Board is charged with assisting and monitoring the work of the new Office for Child and Youth Protection, now part of the bishops' conference. As one of its first acts, the review board in November recommended Kathleen McChesney of the F.B.I. to head this office. (McChesney was profiled in St. Anthony Messenger in April.)

The National Review Board must oversee, approve and publicize that office's annual report about how dioceses/eparchies are implementing the Charter. The report will include the names of those dioceses "not in compliance with the provisions and expectations of this Charter."

The board is helping the Office for Child and Youth Protection develop the criteria to measure diocesan compliance and assisting with the safe-environment programs of dioceses.

In addition, the board has other tasks, unique to it: to "commission a comprehensive study of the causes and context of the current crisis" (the crisis and causes report and the epidemiological research study) and to "commission a descriptive study...of the nature and scope of the problem within the Catholic Church in the United States, including such data as statistics on perpetrators and victims."

The National Review Board has set up subcommittees for its different tasks. The full board meets monthly in different cities, hosted by one of its members. Members have committed themselves to a minimum of three years of service.

St. Anthony Messenger interviewed four members of the National Review Board. Frank Keating spoke with St. Anthony Messenger after he addressed the Catholic Men's Conference held March 29 at Xavier University's Cintas Center in Cincinnati. The other three interviews were conducted via telephone in March.

Frank Keating

'Our Challenge Is to Restore the Faith in the Faithful'

"When the ship is listing to port, it's time to start pumping and not start arguing and denying. This ship has taken on a lot of water and it simply must be righted," says former Gov. Frank Keating, the outspoken, no-nonsense chairman of the National Review Board.

There has been "too much reliance on the advice of lawyers, too much concern about lawsuits and litigation," he continues. "The whole focus of the leadership of the Church ought to be on healing, fidelity, piety and a return to Catholic verities, and less concern about public acclaim and bad publicity."

Keating was the first to be appointed to the National Review Board and named its chairman at the June 2002 bishops' meeting. In January 2003 Keating completed his second term as governor of Oklahoma. (He was governor at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing). He is now president of the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington, D.C., which represents the interests of the insurance industry at the federal and state levels.

He received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and his law degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1969, and then worked as an F.B.I. agent. From 1985 through 1993 he served in Washington as assistant secretary of the Treasury and general counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As Oklahoma governor, he held firm against Tulsa Bishop Edward J. Slattery's request for a state moratorium on the death penalty.

Keating and his wife, Cathy, have been married 30 years and have three children, one granddaughter and another grandchild expected this summer.

'Beyond Comprehension'

Keating remains appalled that "individual bishops could permit the likes of a Paul Shanley or a John Geoghan to continue to prey on young people. To continue to flaunt and flout, to commit crimes and sins while wearing the Roman collar is beyond comprehension to me. It's just arrogance and negligence that permitted that to happen. And we are paying a very costly price for it."

He fears that some of the U.S. Church leadership still don't realize "what terrible pain" the problem of clergy sex abuse has caused. "What a horrible, horrible loss to the development of the faith in the hearts and minds of many Catholics has occurred. A number of dioceses don't see the urgency in all of this. I think most do, but some don't."

As chairman of the National Review Board, his role is to facilitate all the subcommittees, "to make them work together,...doing their work in a timely way and moving in the direction we want them to move.

"For example, to select a director of the Office [for Child and Youth Protection] with a law-enforcement background was very important to me." He says some of his colleagues on the board wanted a social worker. "I held out for a cop and, fortunately, I won." Although they share an F.B.I. background, Keating did not know McChesney before she was hired for the job, but he has only praise for her as "a very wonderful, decent, tenacious person who is going to serve us extraordinarily well."

He's also involved with Bennett's subcommittee that will pinpoint "how we got into this mess." And he wanted an independent non-Catholic organization to examine the size of the problem. "Lastly, and most importantly, I'm focused on the audit function to...decide whether, in fact, dioceses are implementing the Charter on an ongoing basis."

Whatever Ails the Mother Church

Keating has participated in some of the interviews the board has conducted with victims and their parents. He remembers one couple telling an "agonizing story of their son." Afterward, he told them he was so sorry and expressed his hope that the young man was doing better: "But the mother told me, 'No, he committed suicide.'" Keating's voice breaks at the memory.

Even though Keating allows the painful stories to get to him at times, he knows he was picked because of his law-enforcement background and his prominence as a lay Catholic who has a "stunned and intolerant attitude toward this." He says, "Bishop Gregory wanted someone who would help him put together a board that would be relentless and remorseless."

Among the people encouraging Keating to be on the board was the Rev. Robert Schuller of the Hour of Power TV program. "Schuller, who is a significant Christian evangelist and a follower of the path of Jesus, told me, 'The Catholic Church is the Mother Church. Whatever ails Catholicism ails all of Christianity. So any of us who love our faith would drop everything to help in its most pressing hour of need.'" Keating adds, "And this is an agonizing, terrible hour of need, to say the least."

For His Non-Catholic Sons-in-Law

The board's "safe environment" report, due out in June, will "send a message to parents of Catholic children-and parents of non-Catholic children who go to Catholic schools-that their children will be safe, not only well-educated."

In fact, Keating hopes that, when his service on the board is completed, "I can say to myself and to my non-Catholic sons-in-law that this horrific chapter of the Catholic Church in America is closed. The children are safe and the Church has been restored to the faith. As I told Bishop Gregory when I accepted the post, our challenge is to restore the faith in the faithful."

So the board will put systems in place where there is vigilance and intolerance of aberrant behavior. "This sinful behavior simply must never occur," Keating stresses.

Justice Anne M. Burke

'The Implementation Is the Growing Pain of Change'

"I hope this is the first substantive step in involving the laity in the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States," says Justice Anne M. Burke, the vice chair of the National Review Board. "I dislike the fact that it has taken this issue" to make this happen. "But I'll take it however it comes.

"I think the bishops have realized that the laity have a lot to offer. We don't want to take their jobs away from them in any way, shape or form, but we want to make a Church that is for everyone and help restore the sense of trust and believability in the Catholic Church," she says.

Deep Interest in Children

Justice Burke serves on the Illinois Appellate Court, First District. Appointed in 1995, she was elected in 1996. Before agreeing to become part of this new Church board, she had to check if the Appellate Court was scheduled to hear any cases where the Catholic Church was a plaintiff or respondent. There were none and, after learning that the National Review Board would not be giving rulings or looking at specific cases, she felt free to serve.

After talking with Bishop Gregory, she decided that being on this board would be akin to being a trustee of a university, "in terms of having a mandate and a mission," she says.

Justice Burke is married to Edward M. Burke, alderman for Chicago's 14th Ward and dean of the Chicago City Council. They have four children, ages 33 through 27, and are the legal guardians of a seven-year-old who came to them as a foster child eight days old. They now have a two-year-old granddaughter and two more grandchildren are on the way.

While raising her children, Burke returned to school and graduated from DePaul University with a degree in education. In 1983, she received her law degree from IIT/Chicago-Kent College School of Law.

Her interest in children's welfare goes back to her work with the Chicago Park District, where she taught physical education to mentally handicapped children. In 1968 she founded the Chicago Special Olympics and served as director of that organization. After law school, she opened a neighborhood practice, which included representing children in cases of abuse, neglect, delinquency or parental custody.

Burke was appointed by Illinois Governor Jim Edgar as his Special Counsel for Child Welfare Services. She worked to reform the Cook County juvenile-justice system and improve child-protection services.

Blind Faith

Justice Burke agreed to be on the National Review Board because, she says, "My Church is in crisis. I wanted to help implement this Charter, and I was really humbled by the request." Actually, she admits she didn't really know all it would entail when she agreed to serve. "So it was a kind of blind faith. I failed even to ask who else was going to be on the committee."

She thinks her experience as special counsel for child welfare in Illinois and her experience in the legal profession, both on the bench and as an attorney, will be "quite indispensable in helping achieve a sense of justice and trust within the crisis."

As vice chair, she will be working at "keeping the board together and focused." She praises her fellow board members-"heads of departments, chairs of this, leaders in their own fields-for knowing how to get work done by coming together." She points out that these board positions are not "stepping-stones to anything else, isn't like moving up the corporate ladder or running for another office."

The core committee of the board consisted of the first three members announced last June by Bishop Gregory at the bishops' meeting-Keating, Bennett and herself-plus Dr. Michael Bland who was added the following week. The bishops had them recommend others for the board. They decided not to put anyone on the board from a special-interest group, who might have to get approval from some board before voting on a proposal.

Now with the Charter in place, "The implementation is the growing pain of change," Justice Burke says. The board is trying to set up very precise instruments to measure compliance in the audits.

"Now in a perfect world, it would have been a lot better to set up standards earlier, before the Charter came into effect," but this first audit will be educational: "How can the National Review Board and the Office for Child and Youth Protection help dioceses? We'll say what we expect. Let's see where we overlap and where we are missing things. Later audits will get tougher."

Appropriate and Uniform Policy

The board's objective is to implement this policy of child protection "appropriately and uniformly across the United States." This is the first time a national Church policy has been created and monitored in this way.

Justice Burke puts her love for the Church first and foremost, and wants the Church to admit we are all in this together. "Some of the failings of the past definitely have to be acknowledged and changed. And only people of courage and fortitude can really accomplish this. So I just pray that we harvest large quantities of courage and fortitude because we need it in our leadership....If that can occur, then I do see the future as a time of hope.

"By the time our work is completed," Justice Burke says, "I hope I'm able to say that every archdiocese and diocese in the United States has a program in compliance with the spirit of the Charter and guarantees the safety of children and young people in each diocese. And I hope the results of our research and work will help the Catholic Church in the United States to develop a plan to ensure that a crisis like this never will occur again."

Dr. Michael J. Bland

'Healing Is Possible'

A year ago June, Dr. Michael J. Bland held the bishops (and TV viewers everywhere) spellbound when he told of being abused as a youngster by a priest. "You could have heard a pin drop. At times it became difficult to go on as I saw different bishops crying and wiping tears away," Bland remembers now.

"Just as that experience of being abused changed my life, so too did the presenting-in good ways but also others....You're exposed, you know."

After the abuse, Bland went on to become a Servite priest-in the same order as his abuser. "Through spiritual direction and therapy I began to understand my desire to be a better priest than he was. It took time for me to admit that I was sexually abused. It took even longer to trust anyone" with his story, but then he realized "the only way I could move beyond the darkness was to break the silence."

When he did, his order's superiors did not handle it "humanely, justly or pastorally." For Bland, it is not the perpetrator's actions but the Church's poor response to victims that "causes the dark shadow of suspicion over the entire Church."

Two years after revealing the abuse, Bland decided he needed to leave the religious community "for my own spiritual good, moral integrity and psychological well-being....After my last parish Mass I reverenced the altar, placed my stole and chasuble upon the altar and followed the procession out for the last time. The priesthood lost me, but kept the perpetrator." That was the shocking tale he told the bishops in Dallas.

Good Fallout From His Talk

The pain Bland revealed brought the issue of clergy sex abuse home to many, for its horror, its long-lasting effects on the victims, the very evil of it.

Bland, who earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a doctorate in ministry in pastoral psychology from Chicago Theological Seminary, has worked for over 10 years as clinical-pastoral coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago's Victim Assistance Ministry. He works directly with victims of sexual abuse by Church personnel, some of them clergy.

After his talk was widely reported, Bland received many letters and tried to respond to each of them. His address also filled in gaps for people in his old parish as to why he had left.

Bland continues, "I think one of the blessings of all this is that we are no longer living in silence, the deafening silence of sexual abuse. In the past year and a half, society has been educated about sexual abuse. The media have made sexual abuse a household term which allows people to talk about it."

Dr. Bland's speech to the bishops earned him a place on the National Review Board, and he joined Keating, Burke and Bennett as part of the core committee that helped select the others. But he's still hurt by some criticism that he wasn't "victim enough. Now what does that mean?" he asks.

'Healing Is Possible'

He agreed to serve on the board because "I believe healing is possible. I believe the work of the Charter is possible. And I believe it's important sometimes to put our actions where our words and faith are.

"One of my feelings was that many bishops came to that conference meeting knowing they had no choice but to vote for the Charter. I think after that initial day bishops knew why they were voting for the Charter. I think the Spirit moved people to a deeper understanding."

He brings his experience as a victim-survivor to his work with the board. "One of the things I can offer is a reminder that victims are real, and there is a victim on the board, and the reality that healing is possible. There are no winners in this situation, but we can prevent losers, and a loser is any child who is hurt."

Bland has observed that every decision of the board at this point that has come to a vote has always passed unanimously. He's also amazed at the perfect attendance at these meetings.

Priest-perpetrators, he believes, can have many victims each. "It's really the power issue. For so many years, as good, faithful people, we really believed in our religious leaders and the heritage and the tradition that they represent. Just the garb that they wear makes people think they are 'safe' people."

'Our Last Shot at Getting This Right'

But as Bland told a Siena College audience in Albany, New York, March 29, as part of a panel with Archbishop Harry Flynn, the head of the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse: "Some have suggested the problem of clerical sexual abuse of minors is due to lack of psychosexual formation of priests, celibacy, homosexuality, priests not being allowed to marry, not allowing women to be priests, or not following Church teachings.

"I believe these are all different agendas. For me, the issue is that an adult, who happened to be a priest, sexually abused a minor. Anything more begins to sound like excuses or, even worse, blaming the victim, and thus runs the risk of re-victimizing the victim."

One of the heartbreaking aspects of this for him is his suspicion that some victims have still not come forward.

As he said at Siena College, "Things are different this time, I believe. We, the Church, better understand the experience and pain of the victims. We can put into place far-reaching structural changes that will create a safe environment for children and youth and will create a system of transparency that will spare us from a return to this horrific nightmare.

"Like others, I am convinced that this is our last shot at getting this right."

Michael Bland advises Church leadership "to do the right thing. I think the Charter is really a great document, but will be only as strong as the way the bishops implement it."

Pamela D. Hayes

'The Best Thing We Can Do Is to Change the Future'

Over her 25-year career, Pamela Denise Hayes has been on both sides of the sex-abuse issue: a prosecutor and a defense attorney, in public and now private practice.

A native New Yorker and lifelong Catholic, she received 12 years of Catholic education at St. Aloysius School in Harlem and Aquinas High School in the Bronx. She went on to graduate with honors from Northeastern University in Boston in 1975 and earned her law degree from Atlanta's Emory University School of Law in 1978.

Attorney Hayes has worked as a public defender for the State of New Jersey, as a law assistant for a New York County Supreme Court judge, as a special assistant attorney general for the Office of the Special Prosecutor for the New York City Criminal Justice System, and as an assistant district attorney and the bureau chief of the sex crimes and special bureau for Kings County (Brooklyn), New York. In these capacities she dealt with several high-profile cases, and went on to become an expert commentator for TV stations.

In 1993, she opened her own legal practice in Manhattan, with a concentration on criminal defense litigation. And since 1993, she has taught as an assistant professor in the law and police science department of the John Jay School of Criminal Justice, which is part of City University of New York.

Investigative Skills

When Hayes was at the Brooklyn D.A.'s office, she says, "We were handling thousands and thousands of sexual offenses every year. That job really helped me to focus in on what the real issues here" are. She feels she understands "some of the issues we're dealing with, like pedophiles who don't think they are pedophiles," as well as Church leaders "who haven't dealt with the situation appropriately.

"I think I can generally frame the issues pretty fast so that we can know what's going on," Hayes says of her contribution to the board. She also brings her investigative skills.

She serves on the National Review Board "because I want to make a difference." This isn't her first review board work. After the wave of revelations in the early 1990s about sexual abuse of children by some priests, "I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Cardinal John O'Connor and tell him we needed a lay review board and...he was able to put that together." She served on the New York archdiocesan review board for several years, but resigned after she adopted her daughter, McKenzie.

Hayes has helped get the John Jay School, where she teaches, to put together a major statistical survey on sexual abuse of minors.

Solace of Knowing This Won't Happen Again

When she's done with her service on the board, Hayes says, "I hope we can show you that the Church has come to grips with the fact that this was a very serious problem, that the bishops have put mechanisms in place to deal with it." She wants "the victims who have been offended by this horrible act by some priest to get some type of solace. I'm not talking about cash. I'm talking about the type of solace that comes from knowing that this is not likely to happen to anybody else because the Church is actively trying to make sure it doesn't happen again."

She thinks Church leadership has to learn how to understand and handle the crisis better. "I don't think we've seen them doing the best they can do," she says.

When a sex-abuse case affects a parish, she believes the bishop should meet with parishioners, which should not compromise the individual case. The bishop could speak about "the policy that is in place now, how it's affecting things now. The bishop can make people understand that, O.K., maybe you can't change the past and the best thing you can do is to change the future."

As a lawyer, Hayes opposes lifting the statute of limitations on cases (the number of years back an incident happened which makes the case prosecutable by the state). "I don't think the people who didn't want to handle it back then should be allowed to handle it now." Memories get unreliable and proof harder to obtain the further back an incident occurred. "Some individual rights are being sacrificed....These rules are in place for a reason. You can't have a reactionary approach to things."

Attorney Pam Hayes wants to build up the Church's credibility on this issue. Although she points out that it is not a large percentage of priests involved in this, "We just need to find those perpetrators, and get them out of wherever they're at so they won't be able to hurt any more children, and move on."

Barbara Beckwith is the managing editor of St. Anthony Messenger and is a graduate of Marquette University's College of Journalism.


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