With No Apology
Outspoken Chief of Church Reform Panel Quits

By Janice D'Arcy
Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]
June 17, 2003

The man charged with monitoring sex-abuse reform in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church quit Monday, offering a defiant, unapologetic and abrupt resignation.

"My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology," wrote Frank Keating, the former Oklahoma governor who was head of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth.

"To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church."

The letter - dated Monday and addressed to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Wilton D. Gregory - made reference to a growing fury over Keating's recent controversial comments comparing secretive bishops to the Mafia. It also severed a contentious relationship and, because it came just as the bishops prepare to gather for their annual conference this week, ensured that the sex-abuse issue would again dominate their proceedings.

Gregory released his response later in the day, accepting the resignation and acknowledging its context:

"Because the task you took on was unprecedented and had to be carried out in an intense environment which gives rise to strong emotions under the close observation of the media, there were bound to be moments of difficulty.

"At such times I found you open and responsive to my assessments of the situation."

Keating's appointment came at the bishops' annual gathering last June as one of the major reforms to address the public anger over sex abuse within the church. Because Keating was a fiery former prosecutor, the appointment was considered a powerful recognition of the problems in the country's parishes.

Catholics who have closely followed the church's struggles expressed disappointment at Keating's departure Monday, though for different reasons. Many said they thought Keating's comments were too aggressive but that his resignation would be a setback for the bruised institution.

Michael J. Bland, one of the 13 review board members, said, "The whole conversation should not have taken place in the media." Still, he stressed that Keating's decision to resign was his own.

"I just hope the voices can be lowered, the emotions lowered, and we can re-focus on the mission," Bland said.

Joseph O' Callaghan, chairman of Voice of the Faithful in the diocese of Bridgeport, said, "The language he used, even if he didn't intend the way it sounded, was rather harsh."

"On the other hand, it does appear that there has been a lot of stalling" on the part of some bishops, O'Callaghan said. "The bishops have made a lot of noise about transparency and accountability, and they still have a long way to go toward being transparent and accountable."

Keating's tenure was marked, and at times marred, by a series of arresting public comments he made about the bishops' responsibility for abuse problems. Beyond assembling the review board, he also pledged to go to the pope with any wrongdoing he found on the part of any bishops and suggested that lay Catholics switch parishes or refrain from giving money if they distrusted their leadership.

His stances were not entirely surprising, coming from a politician once dubbed "the mouth from the South." His outspokenness, in fact, was a primary reason the conservative politician and lifelong Catholic was chosen for the high-profile job in the first place.

But some church leaders, who had never been monitored by a lay review board, were growing increasingly angry at their choice.

When Keating complained that some bishops were not providing information to the review board and compared their silence to the Mafia's code of silence, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony called it "the last straw."

Mahony said publicly that he would call for Keating's resignation at the upcoming conference, which begins Thursday in St. Louis. Keating avoided that face-off with his letter Monday. His timing ensured the sex-abuse issue would be a top priority.

The conference agenda currently provides only a brief discussion of the abuse policies.

But now, the bishops will have to choose a replacement, and public attention and media questioning are likely to focus almost exclusively on the resignation.

Already, abuse victims are planning to attend the four-day session and raise the issue in light of the new development. Keating's resignation, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, is "an alarming message that if you tell the truth, you're gone."

Keating has said that he had long planned to resign this summer. Monday, he acknowledged that the controversy convinced him to step down sooner than planned, but he did not want it to be seen as an apology.

"He is as adamant as ever that some bishops work under a code of silence," said Dan Mahoney, Keating's spokesman. "There is no apology. There is nothing to apologize for."

The Rev. John Gatzak, a spokesman for the Hartford archdiocese, called Keating's resignation "truly unfortunate."

"I was at the meeting last year when he was appointed, standing next to Bishop Gregory. He expressed himself in a no-nonsense type of way, and it seemed that's what the bishops wanted.

"It's terribly sad, and truly unfortunate, his choice of language in expressing his frustration," Gatzak said. "Name-calling will always be divisive, and rarely leads to conflict resolution."

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, based in New York City, called Keating's resignation "regrettable, but necessary."

"I think the majority of the panel is upset with him, and for good reason. The best thing he could do is resign. Otherwise, all the attention is going on to be on Frank Keating, instead of on these bishops who have not been cooperating."

Courant Staff Writer Frances Grandy Taylor contributed to this story.


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