Hard Truths: Keating Right about Catholic Scandal

The Dallas Morning News
June 17, 2003


It's strange and ironic how the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal so often ends up consuming not the abusers and their protectors but the whistleblowers and reformers.

Consider the fate of Father Thomas Doyle, who in 1986 presciently told a group of canon lawyers that the abuse crisis "is the most serious problem the church has faced in centuries." As the National Catholic Reporter reported in 1997, Rev. Doyle, who had once worked for Pope John Paul II's representative in Washington, D.C., found himself "marginalized, his career sent way off the track." His mistake was to speak truthfully to a church hierarchy that didn't want to hear.

Oklahoma's Gov. Frank Keating is getting some of that mistreatment now. He is expected to resign this week as chairman of the national review board that the U.S. Catholic bishops established last summer in Dallas to oversee their implementation of safeguards against the sexual abuse of children. His mistake was to compare some bishops to the Mafia for their failure to provide confidential church records to prosecutors and to identify accused priests. It was a true statement. A year after the bishops promised to be open and cooperative with civil authorities, some are still being closed and uncooperative, still putting the interests of a few bad priests over those of their flocks, still dragging down the church's good name.

As The Dallas Morning News reported last week, not all bishops have been following the get-tough approach that they adopted in Dallas. Some have retained or failed to name accused priests. Some have failed to account for the abuse crisis' financial toll, or to reveal who investigates abuse claims. Some failed to enforce parts of their national policy against sexual abuse of children until prodded.

And yet it is Mr. Keating whose services are no longer needed and whose probity is called into question. The bishops whose stonewalling he exposed will remain in their jobs. They include Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who had initially refused to participate in a survey by the national review board of sexual abuse cases and who had called Mr. Keating's comment "the last straw."

The Catholic Church needed a review board chairman unafraid to speak hard truths, and it still needs one to complete the board's important work. It's a shame that Mr. Keating's truthful if inelegant comment should force his removal. If the bishops care to protect children as they say that they do, they should be able to suppress their egos for that cause's sake.


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