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Post-Dallas: Head of review board promises to hold bishops accountable


Appointed to chair a new national lay review board established by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at its meeting in Dallas June 13-15, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating is making it clear that he and his fellow board members are committed to holding accountable any bishop whose negligence played a role in creating the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

“If a particular diocese is corrupt, indifferent, negligent, we will shout that to the highest trees,” Keating told NCR June 24.

The Oklahoma Republican described the mandate of the board as both retrospective and prospective. What gives the lay advisory group “unprecedented power” in the Catholic church is that the board will be reporting both to the bishops and simultaneously to the American public, Keating said.

A former FBI agent and prosecutor with strong crime-fighting credentials, Keating was tapped by the conference president, Bishop Wilton Gregory, to head the new review board a week before the meeting in Dallas. Also named to the board were Washington, D.C., lawyer Robert Bennett and Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke. Michael Bland, a clinical pastoral coordinator for the archdiocese of Chicago and a victim of clerical sex abuse, was subsequently named as a fourth member of the board.

Keating said the original group named to head the lay review board had made some modifications to the initial plans for the board outlined by Gregory. “We made some battlefield decisions that the bishop embraced,” Keating said. “He was not offended by having non-Catholics, but we were of the view that [board members] should be Catholics, that the church should heal itself. He at first thought it should be a larger group, and we decided that it should be no more than 11 persons. We recommended another seven who are Catholic lay people and geographically dispersed and people of very tough independence. None are people dependent on the church for their livelihood.”

Keating has discussed the mandate of the review board with the press several times since the announcement of his appointment June 14. He has said that he regretted that the new “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” approved by the bishops in Dallas did not mention how bishops who were guilty of contributing to the scandal might be sanctioned. “The document in Dallas was silent as to prelate involvement and responsibility. I regret that,” Keating said in a New York Times article published June 23.

The review board does not have the power to formally sanction bishops, but since his appointment Keating has consistently maintained that he would do all that was in his power to seek the resignation of bishops that obstructed justice and would bring their case up with the pope himself if necessary. In Dallas, Keating said he was likely to suggest the resignation of Boston Cardinal Bernard Law because of his handling of clerical sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese, but would reserve final judgment on Law and other bishops until the board convenes.

In an op-ed piece published in The New York Times, Keating followed up on these remarks.

“In any case where a bishop is found to have provable knowledge of illegal activities committed by a priest under his charge, and where that bishop knowingly covered up such activities, he should also be held legally accountable as an accessory to the crimes involved. The commission is capable of calling the public’s attention to bishops who do not follow the guidelines adopted yesterday, and we intend to do so,” Keating wrote.

He described the tasks of the review board as ensuring that the policies set forth in the new charter the bishops approved are carried out without exception or excuse and acting as an ombudsman and watchdog answerable not just to the bishops but to the laity.

The lay review board will oversee the work of a new Office for Child and Youth Protection, which will assist individual dioceses in the implementation of “safe environment programs” and will publish an annual public report on the progress made in implementing the standards in the charter. The board will also commission both a descriptive study and a historical study of the nature and scope of the sex abuse problem within the Catholic church in the United States.

Keating was born in 1944 in St. Louis and moved to Tulsa with his family when he was six months old. He received his undergraduate degree in history from Georgetown University and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma. After serving as an FBI agent, Keating became a prosecutor in Tulsa. He went on to serve in both houses of the Oklahoma Legislature before moving to Washington, where he served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Associate Attorney General and General Counsel at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Elected governor of Oklahoma in 1994, he became the first Republican to be elected to a second consecutive term. During his tenure as governor, Keating has focused public awareness on child abuse, divorce and domestic violence and drug abuse. He has come into conflict with Oklahoma bishops because of his support for the death penalty.

As a lifelong Catholic, Keating said he was saddened that it was necessary to devote an entire meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to the issue of clerical sexual abuse. He added he was “horrified, angry, shocked, sad and amazed” that priests would commit such crimes against children.

While Keating praised the bishops for the charter they adopted to respond to the sex abuse crisis, he said, “I am aware that many of these problems are self-inflicted. In far too many cases, leaders in the highest positions of trust and responsibility were passive accomplices to the violation of that trust and avoided any responsibility.”

Robert Bennett has also said the board will be looking at the behavior of bishops as well as priests. A defense attorney for former President Clinton, Bennett has earned a reputation as a combative, media-savvy lawyer who seldom loses a case. He defended Caspar Weinberger during the Iran-contra scandal and recently was hired by the Enron Corporation to represent the failing company. The product of a Brooklyn Irish-Catholic family, Bob Bennett is the brother of William Bennett, former Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration.

Anne Burke was elected to the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, in 1996, having previously being appointed to that bench in 1995. Burke is special counsel to the Illinois Governor for Child Welfare Services, founder of the Special Olympics in Chicago, and recipient of over 50 awards including Crain’s 100 most influential women and Lawyer of the Year Award. She is on the board of DePaul University. Burke is widely accredited as a lead reformer of the Cook County Juvenile Justice System.

Michael J. Bland is clinical-pastoral coordinator for Victim Assistance Ministry of the Chicago archdiocese, and clinical counselor at the Center for Psychological Services, Oak Lawn, Ill. Bland has worked for 10 years directly with victims of sexual abuse by church personnel, including clergy. He holds a doctorate in psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and a doctorate in ministry from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Born in New Jersey and a graduate of St. Louis University, he is a nationally known consultant providing clinical and pastoral consultations to dioceses, religious communities, and other church-related agencies in dealing with sexual abuse by clergy and other church personnel.

National Catholic Reporter, July 5, 2002