Keating Standing by Secrecy Charge
Catholic Storm Roils As Ex-Governor Quits Abuse Board after Alleging Cover-up by Bishops

By Reese Dunklin and Brooks Egerton
The Dallas Morning News
June 16, 2003

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating remained defiant Sunday in likening some Catholic bishops to the Mafia, comments that his spokesman said reflected frustration with a few powerful U.S. prelates.

Criticism of his remarks led Mr. Keating to announce his resignation over the weekend from the lay panel that bishops created to monitor their new sex-abuse policies, which were forged in Dallas last summer and remain the subject of debate around the country.

"He thinks to compare them to La Cosa Nostra is appropriate," Keating spokesman Dan Mahoney told The Dallas Morning News. "They have this code of secrecy. The whole point of the charter passed last year in Dallas is openness."

His boss first made such comments last week to the Los Angeles Times , prompting behind-the-scenes criticism from several fellow panel members and a public outcry from Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony. Mr. Keating was venting about reports that the cardinal had tried to spike a national audit, being overseen by the panel, of compliance with the charter.

Cardinal Mahony and some other bishops have expressed a fear of news leaks and further demands from prosecutors for information. The cardinal's spokesman has since said that his concerns have been addressed and that the audit would proceed.

The resignation announcement comes as the bishops prepare to meet this week in St. Louis, where little public discussion of sexual abuse is scheduled. Those prelates who will still talk to the media about the issue, such as Dallas Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Galante, say that the promises of reform are largely coming true.

But some dioceses aren't aggressively enforcing their new policies, recent news reports have shown. The Phoenix bishop remains on duty after cutting a recent deal with authorities to avoid prosecution for cover-ups. Other criminal investigations continue.

Mr. Keating, a former federal prosecutor, believes that most bishops have been cooperative, his spokesman said.

"But there's a handful - and unfortunately, some of them are the most powerful and run large dioceses - who want to make it difficult to get at the truth," he said.

Bishop Galante, who has served as a spokesman for the bishops on abuse, condemned Mr. Keating's remarks but stopped short of endorsing his resignation.

'Extreme language'

"I think the governor used extreme language," he said. "If an individual calls attention to himself instead of the work of the review board, I think that's a real problem."

Bishop Galante also said it was "very premature" for Mr. Keating to criticize his colleagues, because the audit isn't done. That study began this month and will continue through the fall, examining what progress dioceses have made in implementing the policies passed in Dallas.

Mr. Keating was not granting interviews Sunday, his spokesman said, adding that, "Frank Keating shouldn't be the issue.

"It should be the crisis. The bishops upset with Frank Keating should be focused on what is being done now in the dioceses to make sure what happened in the past doesn't happen again," Mr. Mahoney said.

Mr. Keating, he said, had been planning to step down before long but "probably accelerated" the decision because of the controversy. It wasn't clear Sunday when his resignation would take effect.

Bishop Galante downplayed as "anecdotal" recent news reports, in The News and elsewhere, that some bishops were leaving priests on duty despite credible reports of past sexual misconduct. He also suggested that some prosecutors are "on fishing expeditions."

"I would be very hesitant to say there's a great conspiracy to hide or not cooperate," the bishop said. "Since last June, I don't see any bishops who are still covering up."

Mike Allen, a Catholic who is the head prosecutor in Cincinnati, disagrees. He says church officials there are withholding records during a grand jury investigation.

'Wake-up call'

Mr. Allen said Sunday that he hopes that Mr. Keating's resignation "will be a wake-up call to bishops around the country that Catholics have had it with the stonewalling. It sounds to me like Gov. Keating was frustrated, as we are here, with the lack of cooperation with the church."

When the bishops appointed Mr. Keating, their news release said he was "renowned for his integrity, his commitment to justice and judicial process, and his ability to lead complex organizations through crisis and trauma."

Bishop Wilton Gregory, who leads the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., and is president of the bishops conference, said then that Mr. Keating reflected the "elevated role of laity in helping the church protect all our children. ... We could think of no better member of the laity than Governor Keating to assume a national leadership role for us in this endeavor."

David Clohessy, a leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, sometimes had accused Mr. Keating and other review board members, of not being tough enough on the bishops.


The resignation "is going to further disillusion an already despondent Catholic flock," said Mr. Clohessy, whose group also meets in St. Louis this month. "People desperately want to believe progress is being made. But when someone is silenced for speaking out, it's hard to feel optimism."

He described Mr. Keating as "a devout Catholic lay person, hand-picked by the bishops, deeply immersed on this for a year, and he's been a prosecutor. When he says the bishops are stonewalling, withholding evidence and covering up, people ought to pay attention."

Kathleen McChesney, who heads the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection, acknowledged that some bishops had resisted providing data for the audit. But she said those issues "are being sorted out."

"A lot has happened in the last year," she said. "It's actually very encouraging to see the work that has been done."

The review board, which oversees Ms. McChesney's work, includes about a dozen prominent lay Catholics.

One, Jane Chiles, a former director of the Kentucky State Catholic Conference, told the Times that she and other members have had "significant concerns" about Mr. Keating's rhetoric.

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Petra Jimenez Maes told The News that she wasn't among the members who pressed Mr. Keating to quit. She said she first heard about the possible departure Friday, when vice chairman Anne Burke phoned her. Ms. Burke could not be reached Sunday.

Ms. Maes said she was concerned about how Mr. Keating's remarks would affect the board's work with church leaders but "would have liked to have seen a full board discussion" on the matter.

Board member Ray H. Siegfried told the New York Times that he would urge Mr. Keating to reconsider his decision to step down.

"Just because somebody is irritated about what Frank said is not a reason, in my view, to have him depart," the Tulsa resident was quoted as saying.

"Frank and the rest of the board were not guilty of the sins of the child abusers, so why should we suffer any punishment for doing what we've been asked [by the bishops] to do?"


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