The Church in Crisis: Board Got Rare Look at Hierarchical Ways

By Jason Berry
National Catholic Reporter
Downloaded March 10, 2004

Three days before the National Review Board released its report, attorney Pamela D. Hayes left her Fifth Avenue law office in midtown Manhattan for Washington and the final leg of work with her 11 colleagues. As the board's sole African-American, Hayes carried an idea of church nurtured by childhood memories of a close-knit parish in Harlem. As a member of the National Black Catholic Congress, she had met Wilton Gregory when he was a young auxiliary bishop in Chicago. Gregory moved up to become bishop of Belleville, Ill., and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She was impressed with his poise during the 2002 media debacle ignited by the Boston scandal. When Gregory asked her to join the National Review Board, she said yes.

Most members of the board, appointed by the U.S. bishops to investigate the clergy sex abuse crisis, were veterans of boardroom meetings, power lunches and upper-crust functions. William Burleigh and Ray Siegfried are wealthy; Anne Burke, a Chicago judge, is married to a powerful alderman. Dr. Paul McHugh is a prominent psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins. Bob Bennett, who guided the research committee on which Hayes worked, has a lucrative practice in a Washington firm doing white-collar defense work. Petra Miaz is chief justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court. Leon Panetta, a former Congressman from California and chief of staff to President Clinton, runs an institute in Monterrey designed to get young people active in the political process.

Pamela Hayes brought a different set of experiences to the work. In the early 1990s she managed day-to-day prosecutions of child abuse and sexual crimes for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office. Today she is a solo practitioner balancing civil casework and defending clients accused of murder, drug dealing and sexual offenses. Although she has a weekend home in upscale Sag Harbor, Pam Hayes was the least typical "establishment Catholic" on the blue-ribbon board. A pivotal experience in her life was participating in support group meetings with a bishop and close friend who was addicted to drugs.

As the board's deliberations went through twists and turns, Hayes brooded over what she was learning about certain bishops and the power structure. At the news conference at the National Press Club Feb. 27, the board presented an image of unity. Internally, however, the narrow dimensions of the board's mandate left at least two members, Hayes and Panetta, skeptical about the report's laying the groundwork for a genuine reform agenda.

"I think we were all surprised at the level of secrecy in the hierarchy," said Hayes. "I think we now understand one meaning of the First Estate. The ability to control minds on the basis of God is incredible. There are no women in this country of theirs," she said, referring to the hierarchy.

The report, overseen by Bob Bennett, stopped far short of advocating structural changes for which reform groups have clamored. Bennett in interviews underscored "fraternal correction" - that bishops prevail on other bishops to resign because of gross mishandling of abusive clerics.

"I don't think [the board] had a handle on church politics," said Hayes.

"These dioceses are separate fiefdoms," said Leon Panetta after the report was released. "It's an almost medieval organization we're dealing with. Each bishop runs his own fiefdom. There is very little communication between those dioceses and bishops and indeed, very little communication between bishops and the Vatican. The basic culture that developed is, "We take care of our own, we really don't want to open ourselves up to being questioned by others."

"The key here is going to be whether there is greater participation by the laity," said Panetta. "I am just not sure that there's enough pressure internally to really produce the changes that are necessary. I say that because in some of the interviews with the hierarchy there was clearly the sense that they were anxious to get this whole thing behind them - back to business as usual."

Perhaps the most striking example of how prelates view such pressure came last September when the National Review Board members met in Chicago for a round of interviews and meetings. Cardinal Francis George celebrated Mass for them. Afterward, over coffee and donuts at a seminary, several review board members said he told those present: "You will be the downfall of the church."

Hayes was flabbergasted by George's comment.

"The bishops and priests have failed to deal with this," Panetta told the cardinal. The healing process could not begin unless the church acknowledged the problem, he insisted.

"George's remark was very disappointing," review board member and Duquesne University law school dean Nicholas Cafardi told NCR. "I wondered why he saw us as part of the problem rather than part of solution. A main thrust of the report is that the bishops must learn how to use and trust the faithful."

George's comment "hurt a lot of people in our group," said Hayes. "But the bishops are an odd group of people, very insular."

Jim Dwyer, a spokesman for Goerge, told NCR, "The cardinal categorically denies making the statement attributed to him, and anyone who said that he said that either heard him wrong or misunderstood him."

Nevertheless, some board members found the remarks especially troubling in the wake of a previous meeting they had with the cardinal in late February 2003. The group had barely dispersed when the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Fr. Kenneth Martin of Delaware had been living in the cardinal's mansion during visits to Chicago. Martin was a consultant on liturgical texts. In December 2001 he pleaded guilty in Maryland to sexually abusing a teenage boy over three years during the 1970s. At the time, he was a lay teacher. Martin, who drew a suspended sentence, was a "priest in good standing" in Wilmington, provided he not do public ministry.

"Are we saying that people with any kind of question in their past are not employable?" a defensive George asked Cathleen Falsani of the Sun-Times. "Unless we want to say these people are simply permanent pariahs, is it appropriate to put his life under scrutiny that way?"

Review board members were barely back to homes and offices when the Sun-Times piece appeared in their e-mails. On reading it, Hayes thought: "You can't have a convicted child molester staying in your house. That just isn't a good thing."

"When I read the Sun Times," said Panetta, "it confirmed for me what is at the heart of this problem: the hierarchy" s failure to understand the seriousness of the crisis."

"He didn't even tell us about this when we met," said Hayes of the February visit with George, "and the next day it's in the newspaper!"

Moreover, the youth protection charter was designed to scrutinize men like Martin and if the charges were proven, to remove them as priests.

A Catholic childhood

Born in 1953 and baptized at age 4 when her mother joined the Catholic church, Pam Hayes was an only child who grew up in St. Nicholas Houses, a public housing project on 131st Street. Her father was a chef, her mother a government worker. "The project was a way out of the tenements," she recalled. "The neighborhood was wonderful. Everyone had a job." The riots in the 1960s, she recalled as "something you watched on television."

She went to grammar school on 132nd Street at St. Aloysius, taught by black nuns of the Franciscan Handmaids of the Most Pure Heart of Mary. Her mother had grown up on St. Simon, one of the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia. As a child Pam spent summers there with her grandparents. "You had to have Mass cards signed [by a priest if one was away from home], so here I am in the segregated South with my relatives who know nothing about being Catholic and this was no joke," she said. "There would be a major panic every Sunday."

Her grandmother reluctantly took her to a Catholic church on the mainland in the town of Brunswick. As blacks, they followed the customs of the day and sat in the back of the church. "My grandmother was not happy about that. They were still drinking water from separate fountains. One day Father noticed us. He was so thrilled we were in church and made us come up to the front. I felt like, "Yikes, get me outta here!? "

She was one of the few blacks in her class at Aquinas, a girls' high school in the Bronx. She left for school each morning at 7 and traveled by subway and bus.

"The Dominican nuns weren't prejudiced," she recalled, "but they didn't want people having Angela Davis Afro hair cuts. We had 17 African-Americans, out of 241 seniors. Most of the students were Irish and Italian. But they were nice. I loved the place."

Hayes went to Boston where she received her undergraduate degree from Northeastern in 1975. Three years later she graduated from Emory law school in Atlanta. She began her career trying cases as a public defender in East Orange and Elizabeth, N.J. Later she did prosecutorial work in Brooklyn.

In the early '80s she befriended Herb Johnson, who ran the Office of Black Ministry for the New York archdiocese. "I was one of those people who went to Mass every day," she said. "As a kid I had been active in [the Catholic Youth Organization]. We were trying to increase participation of blacks at the diocesan level."

In 1983 she felt a surge of pride when a priest she had long known, the 44-year-old Emerson Moore, was one of the few African-Americans to be named a bishop. "Emerson was our bright star," she said. "He grew up in the Bronx."

Moore was pastor of St. Charles Borromeo and episcopal vicar of Harlem. "Emmy had a future in the hierarchy, a thought that gave many people hope because he was accessible, democratically inclined, and not at all princely in his manner," wrote Paul Dinter in The Other Side of the Altar. But by 1990, Moore was in trouble. Dinter continued: "Somewhere along the way, riven by either self-doubt or sexual torment, Emmy became an addict. Stories circulated about men of dubious pedigree coming and going from the rectory. His behavior grew erratic."

Hayes was uneasy about Moore's behavior when it surfaced. "I was in denial for a year. He said he didn't have a problem. I got rumors about various things, but this was a guy I had known 20 years. He had two master's [degrees]. He was a very sophisticated guy and all of a sudden he has problems."

In 1992 Cardinal John O'Connor invited Hayes, Herb Johnson and a handful of black lay Catholic leaders to a private meeting. Although impressed with O'Connor's commitment to unions and minorities, Hayes was wary of the former Navy rear admiral for his clashes with gay activists and criticism of pro-choice officials, notably Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate.

Hayes was surprised when O'Connor, who had done graduate work in substance abuse treatment, asked them to join him in a support group to rescue Moore from his addiction to cocaine. "This was really troubling for O'Connor," said Hayes. "It wasn't just a priest - it was a high profile bishop having an addiction and we're trying to get him back on track as a support group."

"You may not have liked some of the cardinal's conservative views but O'Connor was always there and you knew you could depend on him."

Week after week, O'Connor sat in the support group meetings that tried to help Moore get clean. All of them desperately wanted him to recover. To the blacks, the idea of losing a bright star was not only sad, but embarrassing.

"O'Connor deserved that red hat," Hayes said. "He moved heaven and earth to do whatever he could for Emerson. At times when Emerson was in major resistance and denial, I'd be over at the chancery wanting to choke him. I'd never had that issue in my parents' life or mine."

Hayes in the meantime had ap-proached O'Connor on another matter.

As a prosecutor, she saw clergy child molesters as a minefield for the church, and advised the cardinal to start a lay review board to monitor such cases. O'Connor agreed. "I served on it for about a year and a half and then I stopped when I adopted my daughter McKenzie in May of 1994."

By then, Moore was wasting away. "A friend who greeted him at a church event bear-hugged him and found almost nothing left of him," wrote Dinter. One of his last acts as a functioning bishop was to baptize Hayes' daughter. He left for a hospice and soon died of AIDS.

"I was devastated," said Hayes. "You don't generally have friends who are bishops. He was one of my first friends who died."

Review board is formed

When Wilton Gregory asked him to chair the review board, Gov. Frank Keating was in the final year of his second term in Oklahoma. A doctrinaire conservative, former prosecutor and FBI agent, Keating had dealt with the devastating losses to dozens of families in the wake of Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah Federal Building early in his term. When Gregory introduced him to the press at the bishops' conference in Dallas in June 2002, Keating showed a flash of anger, his cheeks running red as he spoke about crimes that should have been prosecuted.

At the Dallas conference, Mark Serrano and David Clohessy, leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, cornered Keating to request a seat for an abuse survivor on the review board. The governor seemed gung ho. But as the membership of the board filled out, the survivor chosen was not a member of SNAP, the most confrontational victim's group, but Michael Bland, a former priest and therapist who worked with the Chicago archdiocese's victims' assistance program. Bland had spoken at the bishops' conference in Dallas, in a choked voice, about his own abuse and why he had left the priesthood.

For Hayes, a primary reality about the board was that each of the members loved the Catholic church. Most of them had balanced significant professional achievement with long marriages and stable families. She felt a particular bond with Anne Burke, who has several adopted children. Hayes is a single mother with an adopted daughter. Jane Chiles, the former executive director of the Catholic Conference in Kentucky, had a warmth that put Hayes immediately at ease. Hayes also identified with men like Bennett, who felt a debt to the discipline and quality of Catholic education as a shaping factor in their career success.

At the very first National Review Board meeting, Panetta got a clear signal of the group's inherent limitation.

"We had a pretty extensive discussion with Bishop Gregory about what our role was going to be," recalled Panetta. "I remember asking, "Once we've done this, what is really the power of the board to take action, to insure that bishops who have failed have action taken against them?' [Gregory] made it clear that the authority rests with the bishops and the Vatican. From the beginning it was pretty clear that most important thing we could do was present this information to the public and our fellow Catholics and hope that information in and of itself could bring pressure."

As Clohessy, Serrano and SNAP cofounder Barbara Blaine redoubled their efforts to have an impact on the board, Pam Hayes flew to Oklahoma City for the second meeting of the National Review Board in July 2002 at the Governor's Mansion. "We barely knew each other as a group," she recalled.

Keating allotted part of the day to testimony from a survivors' contingent. One of them, 28-year-old Arthur Andreas of St. Louis, had just been sued for slander by the priest he had reported to church and civil authorities for abusing him. Andreas, who had not gone to the press, was upset and explosive before the review board, for he had responded to pleas by Archbishop Justin Rigali for victims to seek help from the church. (The church has since paid Andreas a settlement of $22,500. The slander suit was dropped, but the priest remains as pastor of a large suburban parish. A second person has accused him to the local review board.)

At the same meeting in Oklahoma, Horace and Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, Kan., spoke about the suicide of their son, Eric, one of five young men, victims of the same priest, all of whom took their own lives.

For all her prosecutorial background with victims of rape, incest and child abuse, Hayes had never seen people in such a state of sustained anger, anxiety and stress, bottled up for so long.

When the board went into its closed session, the room fell quiet. People were taken aback. Hayes wondered how such a volatile force as the victims would affect their dealings. "It made me understand that this problem was so simmering that we had to get people help," she recalled.

As the work unfolded over 18 months, a series of events jolted Hayes. Her ideal of a bishop, embodied by the late Cardinal O'Connor in the support groups with Emerson Moore, slowly gave way to the image of a vast canyon separating people in the pews and bishops with things to hide.

New York's cardinal shuns board

Each time the board met, they asked the local bishop to say Mass.

In January 2003, the National Review Board met in New York. As the only New Yorker on the board, Hayes wrote to Cardinal Edward Egan, asking that he say Mass, and received a cordial note saying that he would. But when the time came, Egan sent word through a secretary that his schedule had changed - and no auxiliary bishop was available.

"He felt our group was becoming controversial," Hayes said. "I felt very embarrassed. The cardinal in my jurisdiction was backtracking on his promise to say Mass. It was a chance to meet the board socially and show your appreciation. He lived steps from where we were staying."

The review board meeting coincided with a dinner for the Knights of Malta, an elite organization of Catholic lay persons active in the church. Review board members Anne Burke, Ray Siegfried, Bill Burleigh and Paul McHugh were Malta members.

Egan let it be known that he didn't want the full board at the dinner, and kept a cold distance from them at the banquet.

By that time Egan had been taken to task editorially in The New York Times. O'Connor, however conservative on sexual issues, had cultivated Jewish leaders and supported unions. But the world had changed on Egan. The Hartford Courant had gotten access to his testimony in cases in Bridgeport, where as bishop well into the '90s he left accused priests in parish work. In testimony he offered the cynical logic that priests should be considered independent contractors.

Hayes felt burned by Egan for another reason. None of the board members was being paid for their time. Ray Siegfried of Oklahoma, who served on many boards including that of Notre Dame, was struggling with Lou Gehrig's disease. "It was a lot of time taken out of our lives," said Hayes. "I spent a small fortune in time given to the group. How could a cardinal think that you have that level of authority, but you won't meet with these people, when it's you and your colleagues who have caused us to be in this predicament?"

Egan eventually met with the board, and handled himself diplomatically, she said.

In Los Angeles, the review board met with Cardinal Roger Mahony. "I had heard great things about him and felt that he did want to help," Hayes recalled. "But why does he have seven lawyers and two flaks when we just wanted to interview him? That's quite a team. Why are these people here? It's not normal. It makes you wonder. Why would anybody need seven lawyers to have an interview?"

"It's anomalous that any member of the hierarchy would choose to meet with the bishops' own board only if their own attorneys are present,' said Nicholas Cafardi, the canonist and law school dean at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and a member of the National Review Board. "That's a retreat into the corporate mentality that's one of the causes of the crisis."

Bishop John D'Arcy of Fort Wayne/South Bend made a deeper impression on Hayes, for as an auxiliary bishop in Boston under Cardinal Bernard Law, D'Arcy had written letters in 1984 warning against a pastoral reassignment of Fr. John Geoghan for "a history of homosexual involvement with young boys. If something happens, the parishioners already angry and divided, will be convinced that the archdiocese has no concern for their welfare."

Soon thereafter, according to The Boston Globe, Darcy was "promoted" to his position in Indiana. Says Hayes: "D'Arcy told us he was transferred to Indiana even though his mother was sick. Law ignored him. They shipped him out despite the fact that his mother was dying! That burned a hole in my soul. They penalized him. Who wants to leave their dying mother?"

Keating resigns

Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops covered travel expenses, the review board members' various schedules and commitments made it hard for all of them to meet each time the board gathered. In June 2003, the review board took a jolt when Keating resigned, under criticism by Mahony, after the outgoing governor compared the behavior of some bishops to the Cosa Nostra.

"It is extremely unhelpful for the heat to be turned up with this use of rhetoric at a time when we are launching a number of very significant initiatives to assure accountability on the part of bishops," Jane Chiles of Kentucky told the Los Angeles Times when Keating quit.

Privately, many board members were relieved that Keating was gone. For all of his tough rhetoric, many believed he had not given the board great guidance. In preparing for his transition to a well-paying private sector job in Washington, Keating often seemed distracted. And although survivor activists were thrilled by his fiery rhetoric, one leader of the movement, who asked not to be identified, called Keating "a politician interested more in his image than anything else."

"The report was focused on child abuse because we stuck tightly to our mandate," said Hayes. "We did talk about how some things could lead to blackmail if a member of the hierarchy was sexually compromised. But this was not something they wanted to talk about [in the report]. These are people who are pros at political correctness."

As the process drew to a close, Hayes kept brooding over the hypocrisy of a power structure that condemns gay people, yet has so many gays within its ranks. "The bishops need to understand that this is no longer a medieval fiefdom where we have rule by bishops as nobility and the laity are serfs," she said, echoing Leon Panetta.

A former chief of staff to President Clinton, Panetta said: "Leaders do not instinctively like to admit having made mistakes. It's true in politics and corporate America. It's part of the arrogance of power. It's only when you're willing to really admit those problems and begin a healing process that involves communication with your priests and your parishioners that you begin to reform what has taken place. Bishops are accustomed to being isolated from many of those they're responsible for and they have to break down that isolation. This is a tall order and it isn't going to be easy to do. But to a larger extent the fate of the church really does hang in the balance."

Does Pam Hayes think certain bishops should resign"

"That's a call they have to make on their own," Hayes said. "Some people have been totally outrageous and really should quit. Cardinal Law resigned. I had been a fan of his for his support of civil rights. But you just can't give people a pass. You've got to call it." She paused. "I don't want to be quoted on others. I have my opinions, clearly."

Jason Berry, a New Orleans writer, is co-author most recently, of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II, and the author of Lead Us Not Into Temptation


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