Cardinal Resisted Abuse Inquiry, Panel Says
Watchdogs Critical of L.A.'s Mahony

By Larry B. Stammer
San Francisco Chronicle [Los Angeles CA]
June 12, 2003

Los Angeles -- Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has publicly called on the Catholic church to be open in its response to the sexual abuse scandal, tried this spring to derail an effort by church officials to determine exactly how many priests may have been implicated in abuse, according to members of the church's watchdog panel.

Mahony's effort, ultimately unsuccessful, was one example of a pattern of resistance by some bishops nationwide that the head of the panel, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, called "stunning, startling."

In an interview, Keating, who was named last year by the U.S. bishops to head their National Review Board, used unusually vivid language to criticize the resistance he has seen across the country. Some members of the church hierarchy -- he did not name them -- had acted "like Cosa Nostra," he said.

"I have seen an underside that I never knew existed. I have not had my faith questioned, but I certainly have concluded that a number of serious officials in my faith have very clay feet. That is disappointing and educational, but it's a fact," Keating said.

"To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress I think is very unhealthy, " he said. "Eventually it will all come out."

Referring to the Los Angeles archbishop by name, Keating added that "I think there are a number of bishops -- and I put Cardinal Mahony in that category -- who listen too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart."

"I appreciate he's watching out for the best interests of his diocese," Keating said. "But we have a mandate for transparency, full disclosure and openness. That's what we're carrying out."

Responding to those comments, Tod Tamberg, Mahony's spokesman, called Keating "a sincere and well-meaning person."

"I would attribute his remarks, perhaps, to extra zeal. He's not an authority on California law or the pastoral concerns of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. We'll just leave it at that," Tamberg said.

Tamberg added that the matter which appears to have sparked Keating's criticism had been resolved earlier this week. That dispute involved the review board's attempt to survey all 195 American dioceses on the number of priests accused of sexual abuse.

The survey is a central part of the review board's effort to determine the extent of the sexual abuse crisis.

Media organizations have estimated that 432 of 46,000 U.S. priests have resigned, retired or were otherwise removed from ministry in 2002 under suspicion of sexual abuse. No official count, however, has been made of the total number of accused priests.

Last year, when the bishops adopted their new guidelines for prevention of sexual abuse, known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth, they created the review board and directed it to conduct the survey of all dioceses.

As of Wednesday, 134 dioceses had responded, at least in part, said Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff under President Clinton and a member of the National Review Board. Among the exceptions to such cooperation have been the dioceses of California, board members said.

In April, Mahony wrote to all U.S. cardinals and major archbishops calling for the review board to terminate its contract with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, which the panel had hired to conduct the study.

According to a recipient of the letters, Mahony said he was concerned that information provided for the survey would be subject to discovery motions by prosecutors and civil attorneys representing sexual abuse victims.

Mahony also said researchers at the college might leak the information, creating a "media frenzy," and then deny having done so.

In May, California's bishops followed Mahony's lead and passed a resolution -- previously unpublicized -- declaring that they would not participate in the survey.

The survey failed to take into account California's privacy laws and the decision by the state Legislature to allow sexual abuse victims more time to file suits against the church, the California bishops said.

Tamberg said Wednesday that those concerns had been resolved in a conference call among attorneys Tuesday and that the California bishops now "will participate fully in this survey in good faith."

"The final goal here is having an understanding of how all this came about to help us make sure that it is not ever replicated again," he said, referring to the numerous incidents of sexual abuse.

But a member of the review board, New York attorney Robert Bennett, said that the California bishops' concerns about the survey had been "without merit. "

Any changes made to the survey would have to be minor, Bennett said, adding that the review board had made clear to Mahony and others that there would be no major alterations in the survey questionnaire.

Bennett said he was pleased that the California bishops "are now willing to comply."


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