Catholic Review Board Denounces Former Chairman's Statement

By Jessica McBride
Centre Daily Times, carried in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [St. Louis MO]
Downloaded June 20, 2003

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - (KRT) - Members of a prominent Catholic lay review board looking into clergy sexual abuse distanced themselves from remarks by their former chairman on Thursday as they and the nation's bishops sat down to patch up differences.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Robert S. Bennett, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and review board member, appeared at a joint news conference to sound a conciliatory theme. With Gregory at his side, Bennett blasted comments by former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who stepped down as review board chairman earlier this week. Keating had compared some bishops to the mafia.

"The National Review Board does not believe there is a criminal organization afoot. We do not associate ourselves with those remarks," Bennett said. "Obviously, we wouldn't be here if bishops hadn't made mistakes to varying (degrees). But to call it a criminal organization is beyond the pale. It was an inappropriate remark by Mr. Keating."

Tension between Keating and the bishops erupted into public view last week when Keating expressed frustration that some bishops - especially those in California - were balking at filling out the extensive survey of sexual abuse allegations the board wanted.

"To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy," he said.

The bishops - in particular Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony - were outraged. Keating quit the board Monday.

There were other conciliatory signs during the opening day of the U.S. bishops semiannual meeting Thursday.

California bishops met with the John Jay College researchers conducting the survey and later issued a statement that said dioceses in that state would "undertake the reporting process for the survey" next week. The bishops had been concerned about violating the privacy of the priests involved, but reached a compromise that satisfied those concerns.

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan said there had been a "good discussion in good spirit" at the meeting between bishops and the three board members who came to the convention.

"It was conciliatory, realistic and helpful," Dolan said. Then pausing and chuckling, he added: "And long."

Dolan said the researchers seemed willing to listen and he believed the remaining surveys would be submitted to the board shortly.

Bennett said the closed-door meeting between board members and the bishops was "a very honest, candid discussion. ... Some bishops expressed reservations in how the study was being done. I came away from this meeting, as did my colleagues, feeling very good and feeling there would be more compliance than I thought six months ago. And we will identify those bishops in the final report who don't comply."

Dolan acknowledged that Keating's resignation and the criminal charges filed against Phoenix bishop Thomas J. O'Brien in connection with a fatal hit and run accident were "picking open a scab that was starting to heal. There is a frustration that, as hard as we try, we can't seem to move on," Dolan said.

But Dolan said the bishops were making progress to restore public trust.

Last year, after months of revelations of abusive priests, the bishops approved a landmark charter to deal with clergy sexual abuse. Now, Gregory said questions raised by some bishops over various issues raised by implementing the charter had given "the impression in the minds of some that we are unwilling to move." He said the church was doing many things "well and effectively."

"In the year since the Dallas meeting, the charter has been implemented locally and nationally. We have the means to ensure to our people the safety of children."

Survivors of priest abuse and the groups that advocate for them continued to push for more openness in dealing with abuse.

Mark V. Serrano, a member of Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, wore a picture of himself as a 10-year-old boy to remind people of the innocence he lost. Unlike reporters, Serrano and other abuse victims and advocates were not allowed to go into the open sessions.

"So far, we have found that what happens outside the gate, from the laity and authorities, gives us the greatest hope as opposed to what happens inside the gate," he said. "The bishops have put a lock on the gate. A year ago, they devoted the entire conference to this issue."

And Steven A. Krueger, executive director of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group formed in the wake of the scandal last year, said the group would continue pressing to hold the bishops accountable.

"Last year, the bishops gave us their words and their good intentions," Krueger said. "As we entered the week of this conference, it was disturbing to learn that almost one-third of bishops surveyed had not responded to the National Review Board survey."

At one point Thursday, Gregory briefly mentioned former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned earlier this year after becoming a lightning rod for criticism over the transferring of abusive priests to other parishes.

Gregory's mention of Law on Thursday came as part of a routine recitation of the names of retired bishops. Law refused all requests for interviews.


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