Cardinal Suggests Keating Resign from Priest Sex Abuse Panel

By Alan Cooperman
The Detroit News [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded June 14, 2003

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles suggested Friday that former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating should resign as chairman of a panel on child sexual abuse by priests after Keating compared the nation's Roman Catholic bishops to the Mafia.

Some members of the panel also condemned Keating's choice of words. But they said they shared his frustration over "foot-dragging" by a minority of bishops, including Mahony, in providing information for a study of sexual abuse in the church.

The acrimony erupted as the bishops prepared to meet in St. Louis next week, one year after the landmark session in Dallas at which they promised to remove all past abusers from ministry and created the panel of 13 lay Catholics, known as the National Review Board, to monitor their efforts.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had planned a low-key convention in St. Louis. The sexual abuse issue does not even appear on the agenda given to reporters, reflecting the bishops' position that they took the hard decisions last year and are resolutely implementing them.

But the comments by Keating and other National Review Board members called into question whether some prelates are wavering on the promises they made in Dallas to provide greater accountability and transparency in the church. Having established a watchdog panel to repair their credibility with the laity, the bishops now face a dilemma. They may be unhappy with the board's criticism, but removing its chairman could undermine its independence, its most valuable asset.

Keating was quoted on the front page of Thursday's Los Angeles Times as saying that Mahony and some other, unnamed bishops had attempted to derail the review board's statistical research and were acting like "La Cosa Nostra" in their devotion to secrecy. In a follow-up article Friday, Mahony was quoted as saying that Keating's comment was "the last straw" and could lead the bishops to decide in St. Louis that he no longer has enough support to remain in the post.

"Unfortunately, in talking to a lot of bishops, he seems to have lost so much credibility that one has to ask, is it able to be recaptured? I personally think it would be almost impossible," Mahony said in a telephone interview with The Washington Post Friday evening.

He added that he understood that review board members had been conferring by telephone without Keating. "I suspect that members of the review board themselves may be counseling the governor that he's put in a year as chairman and this might be a good time for him to step aside," Mahony said.

The cardinal said that he, personally, did not intend to call for Keating's removal in St. Louis. But, he said, "I know from other bishops they intend to bring it up." The most likely prospect, he said, is "some kind of a secret ballot vote of confidence or no-confidence if the governor hasn't decided on his own initiative that this is a good time to step down."

Dan Mahoney, a spokesman for Keating, said he was traveling in Connecticut Friday and was not available for comment

Several members of the Review Board confirmed that they have had discussions among themselves but said Keating's future was in his own hands.

"That's up to the governor, who has been concerned about his own situation with his new job and his inability to spend the time with the board that he would like," said William Burleigh, a retired media executive, referring to Keating's full-time position as president of an insurance trade association.

Burleigh also said Keating's remark about La Cosa Nostra was a mistake. "I don't in any way agree with that characterization because most of the bishops are either cooperating or struggling for ways to cooperate with the study, and it's the minority, such as Cardinal Mahony, that up until recently have been dragging their feet," he said.

The bishops called in Dallas for a study to determine the "nature and scope" of the sex abuse problem in the church, and the review board this year commissioned New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice to conduct the $250,000 research project. About two-thirds of the 195 dioceses in the United States have returned the board's questionnaire. But Mahony and some other bishops have said the data, though anonymous, could be used to identify priests and victims, violating state privacy laws.

California's bishops voted unanimously in early May to call for an immediate halt to the study. But Mahony said Friday they have since worked out modifications with the John Jay researchers and will now provide the data, though he still believes the study is seriously flawed. In St. Louis, he said, he will propose that it be labeled an "interim, first-step" survey and that the bishops should later commission a comprehensive study costing $4 million to $6 million.

"Foot-dragging? Absolutely not. Just the opposite," Mahony said.

Robert Bennett, a Washington lawyer and review board member, said the board was pleased that California's bishops "have now abandoned their frontal assault on the survey, John Jay and the review board."

Keating "undoubtedly overreacted to what he perceived as the foot-dragging, but his remarks were inappropriate," Bennett said. "I think it's time that everybody cool down a little bit and we all focus on the job we're committed to, which is protecting children."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.