National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 14, 2004

Review board head says some bishops rethinking oversight policy

Bloomington, Ill.

Some bishops are having second thoughts about independent oversight of their policies on child sex abuse, said Justice Anne Burke, interim chairwoman of the lay National Review Board appointed to monitor church compliance.

But any efforts to return to self-monitoring could backfire in terms of credibility with the laity, she said.

“I have news for them. It’s not their church. It’s our church,” she said. “The church belongs to all of us.”

Burke gave a talk and answered questions April 23 in Bloomington at a luncheon meeting sponsored by the Peoria chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a national lay group that formed in the wake of the sex abuse crisis to ask for changes in the church.

“Perhaps they [some bishops] have given me the name ‘mother superior,’ ” said Burke, an Illinois Appellate Court justice.

The abuse-prevention policies were approved in 2002 at a time when the bishops were reacting quickly because of an unfolding national church crisis spawned by Boston Globe articles on widespread child sex abuse by priests in the Boston archdiocese, she said.

The policies are stated in the bishops’ 2002 “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.” The charter included the establishment of a National Review Board named by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Burke said that as the crisis seems to be calming down some members of the hierarchy are concerned about preserving their own autonomy and accountability.

As an example of this tendency, she cited the tabling by the bishops’ administrative committee in March of a funding request for further study by the review board of the causes and context of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

The study is mandated by the charter but the funding has to be approved by the bishops, she said.

In a subsequent telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Burke said that five members of the 12-member review board are voluntarily resigning this year. She added that she is unsure if replacements will be named by the bishops at their June 14-20 meeting in Denver or if the bishops will discuss funding for the report on the causes and context of abuse at the June gathering.

In Washington April 30, Bill Ryan, spokesman for the bishops’ conference, told CNS that the June agenda regarding child sex abuse issues has yet to be established.

Ryan said that the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse will meet in mid-May to finalize the topics to be discussed. “We won’t know until then,” said Ryan in response to a question about funding and the naming of new review board members.

Burke told CNS that at the May ad hoc committee meeting, the review board will present a proposal regarding how to conduct a second annual audit to see if dioceses are complying with the charter.

Regarding resignations, Burke told CNS that no term limits were set when review board members were named in 2002 and that individual board members have set their own termination dates based on their other commitments.

Four members, including Burke, will resign at the end of June, she said. The others resigning in June are:

  • Robert Bennett, attorney and head of civil litigation of the Washington office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. He is head of a review board committee that prepared a Feb. 27 report on the crisis based on interviews with 85 people, including bishops, priests, sex abuse victims, theologians and Vatican officials.
  • William Burleigh, board chairman and former president of E.W. Scripps Co.
  • Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff for President Clinton who now heads his own public policy institute in Monterey Bay, Calif.

Burke said a fifth member, Alice Bourke Hayes, former president of the University of San Diego, plans to leave at the end of November.

Burke added that the review board and the bishops’ sexual abuse ad hoc committee have drawn up a joint list of replacement candidates for consideration by the bishops.

During a question-and-answer session at the April 23 luncheon, Burke advised bishops not to treat abuse victims as adversaries and to be less concerned with civil court liabilities when dealing with victims.

National Catholic Reporter, May 14, 2004

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