Catholic Rift Over Keating Panel Widens
Mahony calls claim that bishops are obstructing the
church's sex-abuse inquiry 'the last straw' and hints at an effort
to remove the lay overseer.
By Larry B. Stammer - LA Times Staff Writer
June 13, 2003
A serious split at the senior level of the U.S. Roman
Catholic Church widened Thursday as Cardinal Roger M. Mahony questioned
whether bishops should remove the chief overseer they appointed
last year to monitor their efforts to prevent sexual abuse by priests.
Earlier this week in an interview, the overseer, former
Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, sharply criticized Mahony and other
bishops, comparing unnamed bishops who have opposed his efforts
to "La Cosa Nostra."
Thursday, Mahony, who is one of the most influential
members of the Catholic hierarchy, fired back, calling Keating's
statements "off the wall."
"All I can say is, from the bishops I've listened
to and several called me this morning this is the
last straw," Mahony said in an interview. "To make statements
such as these I don't know how he can continue to have the
support of the bishops. I don't know how you back up from this."
The U.S. bishops created the National Review Board,
which Keating heads, last June at the height of the sex abuse scandal.
The idea was to repair their credibility, which many bishops thought
had been badly undermined by the scandal.
The panel of prestigious lay Catholics would reassure
the faithful, the bishops hoped, that the hierarchy was carrying
out new policies against sexually abusive priests in good faith.
Given the panel's background, a move against Keating
now could risk further damage to the church's already troubled public
image. Almost from the beginning, however, the relationship between
Keating and some bishops has been tense. Mahony's remarks have brought
that tension to the surface.
Mahony said he intends to raise the issue of Keating's
job performance next week in St. Louis when the U.S. bishops hold
their semiannual meeting.
And at least one member of the review board said Thursday
that Keating's remarks were threatening the panel's continued ability
to do its job.
A spokesman for Keating said Thursday that he stood
by his comments, which were made in an interview with The Times.
How many of the more than 350 U.S. bishops share Mahony's
opposition to Keating remains unclear. Several, however, are on
record as being critical of the review board. They include Archbishop
Alex J. Brunett of Seattle, Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh
and New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, who in January refused to celebrate
Mass for the National Review Board when it met in his city.
Mahony said Thursday that the president of the U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory
of Belleville, Ill., had not consulted other bishops before appointing
"It would have been better" had Gregory
asked for recommendations and set up a screening committee before
making the appointment, Mahony said.
A spokesman in the U.S. bishops office in Washington
said Keating serves at the pleasure of Gregory and was not appointed
to a specific term.
Gregory was not available for comment Thursday.
Within the review board's own ranks, Keating's sometimes
outspoken statements have caused concern.
Jane Chiles, a member of the board and the former
director of the Kentucky State Catholic Conference, said that several
members of the panel held a conference call Thursday to discuss
Keating's recent remarks and that she and some fellow board members
have "significant concerns" about them.
"It is extremely unhelpful for the heat to be
turned up with this use of rhetoric at a time when we are really
launching a number of very significant initiatives to assure accountability
on the part of the bishops," Chiles said.
She added that some bishops also have made inflammatory
comments during the past year.
Members of the review board remain committed to the
work they are doing and will do whatever it takes to maintain their
credibility with the bishops, as well as with the rest of the church,
"I think we have to recognize that Gov. Keating
is someone who has been in public office for some time. I think
he has become accustomed to using sound bites to some extent
rather effectively but in this case the work we are doing
and the issues are way too complicated for sound bites."
"There's substantial concern that this kind of
comment makes our work almost impossible," Chiles said.
But others came to Keating's defense. Los Angeles
Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley applauded Keating's criticism of the bishops.
"He apparently has been as frustrated as we have been in our
efforts to secure information in possession of the Archdiocese of
Los Angeles," Cooley said.
In St. Louis, David Clohessy, national director of
the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that, if
anything, Keating has been too restrained in describing the extent
of sexual abuse and the past cover-ups by bishops.
Mary Grant, western states director of the group,
urged Catholics to redirect the money they would have given the
Los Angeles church this week, giving it directly to charities as
a protest against Mahony's behavior.
Father Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine
America and an authority on American bishops, said, "I personally
think that Keating needs to control his vocabulary." But he
also said the dispute proves they "did not appoint a bunch
of lap dogs."
Reese concluded, "He ought to apologize for using
the Mafia word and get back to work."
Mahony has taken a public stance as an outspoken reformer
who has sought to oust all sex offenders from the priesthood. As
head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, he has been more aggressive
than many U.S. bishops in dismissing clergy members.
During the last decade, he quietly removed 17 priests
from ministry who had either admitted or had been credibly accused
of molesting minors.
But he has also been criticized by victims' advocates
and law enforcement officials for seeking to limit prosecutors'
access to church personnel records. And like many other bishops,
he has sought over the years to keep sexual abuse cases out of the
public eye, in some cases moving those accused of molestation from
one job to another and, during the 1990s, discouraging some alleged
victims from reporting their cases to police.
One item at the heart of the dispute between Mahony
and Keating is Mahony's refusal until this week to participate in
a national survey commissioned by the review board to determine
the number of priests accused or found guilty of sexual abuse in
the United States, going as far back as 1950.
The study was required by the charter approved by
bishops last year. So far, 134 of the nation's 195 Catholic dioceses
have responded to the survey, in whole or in part, according to
Leon A. Panetta, the former White House chief of staff who is a
member of the review board.
But California's diocesan bishops, including Mahony,
refused to participate until this week. They argued that the study's
methodology was so seriously flawed that it would not produce valid
or credible data. They also said that answering the survey's questions
would require them to violate California's privacy laws.
Mahony insisted he had not attempted to block the
study, but, instead, he had supported the most effective study possible.
The $250,000 study commissioned by the review board would not begin
to answer questions, Mahony said, estimating that a valid study
would cost from $4 million to $6 million.
The current study, being conducted by the John Jay
College of Criminal Justice in New York, is so flawed that it must
be followed by another, Mahony said.
He agreed this week to participate after his office
said researchers at John Jay had agreed to make some changes in
the study's protocol.
But "whatever they've done isn't going to overcome
what I consider an inadequate and totally incomplete instrument,"
"We are not going to get the comprehensive picture
that we need from this study," he added.
Times staff writer Julie Tamaki contributed to