Editorial: Keating Tells It like It Is

MetroWest Daily News
June 18, 2003

The scenario has become familiar: A public figure expresses his opinion on something, using language maybe a little too colorful for some tastes.

The media play up the quote. The public figure's enemies, swooning with outrage that so-and-so would say such a thing, demand an apology and his resignation. The public figure staggers through a series of lame explanations and unsatisfactory apologies and eventually resigns to escape the baying critics.

Frank Keating didn't follow that script. He had long planned to resign after a year as chairman of the panel created by U.S. bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse scandal. But he wasn't going to mince words on the way out, especially when it came to bishops who have worked to hinder his investigation.

Keating used colorful language, referring in a newspaper interview to the code of silence still present in some dioceses as reminiscent of the mafia. On cue, those who have resisted Keating's efforts to expose the truth -- notably Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles -- feigned outrage at the insensitivity of his remarks and demanded he apologize and resign. No way, said Keating.

"My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate," Keating wrote in his letter of resignation. "I make no apology.

"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."

Keating, a former prosecutor, FBI agent and Oklahoma governor, has made waves since the embattled bishops turned to him at a tense bishops' meeting in Dallas. The unraveling of years of coverups, in diocese after diocese, had left the credibility of the Catholic church's American hierarchy shattered. The job of Keating's panel was to restore the credibility by unearthing the truth and recommending new management structures to make sure that Catholic children are safe from their priests.

Keating reports some success with his mission. Many bishops have cooperated, he reports, and new policies are being implemented. Other bishops, like Mahony, have resisted his efforts. Here in Boston, where the scandal began, Cardinal Bernard Law is gone, but the scandal survives. There are still debts to be settled with the victims of clergy sex abuse, and the church has yet to make peace with parishioners who have demanded a more vigorous response from the archdiocese to decades of shameful acts.

The work of Keating's panel will go on, as it must. The credibility of the church's leadership, among Catholics and non-Catholics alike, has yet to be restored. The circumstances of Keating's resignation, which was welcomed in some ecclesiastical quarters, will only further undermine public acceptance of the bishops' assurances that the church can clean up its own act.

We hope Keating will be replaced by someone equally dogged, equally independent and equally dedicated to truth and transparency in church affairs.


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