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Cardinal Egan Spurns Members of Review Board Studying Abuse

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN, NY Times - January 15, 2003

Cardinal Edward M. Egan has given a cold reception to the national review board of prominent Roman Catholics who were appointed by the bishops to study the priest sexual abuse scandal and who are to meet in New York on Friday, according to board members and people with the church.

Unlike other bishops in cities where the board has met, the cardinal and his auxiliary bishops have said they will be unavailable to celebrate Mass for the board members. The cardinal also prohibited the group as a whole from attending a dinner for the Knights of Malta, a Catholic fraternal organization, at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday night.

Cardinal Egan also interfered with a speaking event for Kathleen L. McChesney, the executive director of the bishops' new Office for Child and Youth Protection, at a parish on Park Avenue this month. Ms. McChesney had accepted a speaking invitation from churchgoers at St. Ignatius Loyola, then she postponed it after learning of the cardinal's disapproval, several board members said.

In interviews, many members of the 13-member board said that they had been surprised and stung by the cardinal's decision.

"We certainly mean no disrespect to him," said Robert S. Bennett, a board member, "but we have a job to do and we're going to do it, and we want and expect his full cooperation. There's just no reason why he should not be working in a cooperative spirit with the board."

At their meeting in Dallas last June, the American bishops voted overwhelmingly to establish a National Review Board of laypeople to help investigate and look for solutions to the scandal. Former Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma was appointed chairman, and he quickly antagonized many bishops and Vatican officials by emphasizing the board's watchdog role. The bishops also set up an Office of Child and Youth Protection to help monitor their compliance with a new national policy on abuse prevention.

Both the board and Ms. McChesney are in the awkward position of acting as independent investigators to keep the bishops accountable, while serving at their pleasure.

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the New York Archdiocese, said that Cardinal Egan did not have an adversarial relationship with the board. He said the cardinal had agreed to meet with the board later this month in Washington to discuss how his archdiocese is handling accusations of child sexual abuse. The board is now interviewing many bishops, and Cardinal Egan is among the first.

Mr. Zwilling said that scheduling conflicts prohibited the cardinal or any of his auxiliary bishops from saying Mass for the board members in New York. But Mr. Zwilling confirmed that the cardinal had refused to allow the board as a group to attend the dinner for the Knights of Malta, because the board's presence might bring unwanted publicity to the event. However, four members of the board ? two men and two women ? are Knights or Dames of Malta, and the cardinal said he had no concerns about their attendance at the dinner.

"Cardinal Egan did feel that the Knights and Dames of Malta have not in any way been tied into the whole issue of the sexual abuse scandal, and he felt it was an outside distraction for the Knights of Malta, and that the dinner was not an appropriate place for the distraction," Mr. Zwilling said.

At the board's previous meetings in Santa Barbara, Calif., Covington, Ky., and Washington, local bishops have welcomed and said Mass for the board members. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington celebrated Mass for them, and Bishop Thomas J. Curry, auxiliary of Los Angeles, joined them for dinner in Santa Barbara. Among the board members are prominent Catholic lawyers, business people, psychologists and a judge, all volunteers.

Yesterday, after two reporters made inquiries about the dust-up to the New York Archdiocese, Ms. McChesney rescheduled her speech at St. Ignatius Loyola. All she would say about the dispute was, "The important thing is getting out there and talking about the issue of sexual abuse to make sure there aren't more victims."
St. Ignatius is a Jesuit parish that is also offering a platform next month to James Post, one of the founders of Voice of the Faithful, a new Catholic lay group formed in response to the scandal. Last year, Cardinal Egan prohibited St. Ignatius from remodeling its historic sanctuary to allow more room for parishioners to participate in services.

On Friday at 7 a.m., members of the National Review Board plan to gather for Mass at a parish that welcomed them, which happens to be St. Ignatius.

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