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Spotlight Report

Keating questions banning of lay group

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 10/5/2002

A small gathering of Boston-area Catholics grew into Voice of the Faithful, a nationwide lay reform group.  
Coverage of Voice of the Faithful
WESTON - Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma, the man US Catholic bishops have chosen to oversee the church's efforts to address a clergy sexual abuse crisis, said yesterday he is baffled by a Boston bishop's banning of the lay group Voice of the Faithful from church property, saying that the Archdiocese of Boston should be open to the views of all.

''Just because you wear a red hat does not necessarily mean that you have the knowledge of what is going on, and you need the input and advice of a wide variety of people,'' he said. ''The archbishop here and the bishops need to be informed. That means there's got to be far more dialogue. ... We would not be here if the bishops had handled this, but we are here. ... No one should be afraid of dialogue.''

But, in front of a crowd of about 600 at Regis College that repeatedly voiced unhappiness with Cardinal Bernard F. Law, Keating did not satisfy repeated questioners wanting him to pledge to hold bishops accountable for failing to remove abusive priests from ministry. Keating said it is up to the pope to decide whether to remove any bishops, reminded the crowd that his job is to oversee the implementation of a policy approved by the bishops, and said ''most'' bishops are ''wonderful, warm, decent, principled, religious, and faithful men.''

He also said that Law had a strong record of civil rights advocacy, and said he thinks Law now understands the problem of sexual abuse of children. He also said he thinks Law is ''probably not'' criminally liable for failing to protect children from sexual abuse.

''What happened on his watch is awful,'' he told reporters after his remarks. ''If you read the Geoghan or Shanley retirement letters, that's appalling to me. I can't imagine that such a letter could be written. But ... his service is solely the result, and solely the decision, of the pope in Rome. ... This is a lot larger issue than Cardinal Law.''

The Revs. John J. Geoghan and Paul R. Shanley were Boston priests who received grateful retirement letters from Law even though they were being ousted from ministry after being accused of molesting many minors in multiple parishes.

Keating said he could not understand why the Archdiocese of Boston has barred a Voice of the Faithful chapter from meeting in a North Andover parish hall. He also disagrees with the archdiocese's decision to spurn financial contributions raised by the lay group, and he met later in the day with the group's president.

He slammed The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, for what he described as a ''gratuitous assault'' on his service to the church. The Pilot accused Keating of encouraging Catholics to commit mortal sin when he suggested that Catholics unhappy with their bishops consider worshiping in another diocese.

Keating also suggested that local Catholics unhappy with Law consider worshiping at parishes run by religious order priests and withholding money from archdiocesan causes.

Keating was the keynote speaker Thursday night at a Regis College symposium on the church crisis. Regis is a Catholic college whose undergraduate students are all women, and the bulk of the audience throughout the day was women of middle-age and older, many of whom expressed profound dissatisfaction with the way the church handled abusive priests and with their own sense of powerlessness in helping to respond to the crisis.

''We feel that we can make a difference as laity in our church,'' said Dr. Mary Jane England, the president of Regis.

Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Regina Quinlan, who described Boston as ''the poster child for sexual abuse by clergy,'' agreed, saying ''the people who are here want to be heard because they care about their church.'' But she said the church needs to change, saying ''this will continue to happen unless that culture of secrecy is changed.''

Keating did not meet with Law during his trip to Boston, despite a conference attendee's suggestion that he ''knock on his door and see who's there.'' He did meet for about 30 minutes Thursday night with a group that included Deacon Anthony P. Rizzuto, the recently appointed archdiocesan cabinet secretary for the church's Office of Child Advocacy, Implementation and Oversight, which will oversee implementation of new child protection policies. Rizzuto said he plans to seek a meeting with the staff director of Keating's commission, who is to be appointed shortly.

''There was a great exchange of information, and we're hoping to work together with Governor Keating in a proactive, positive manner so we can achieve the goal we all want, and that is to protect children,'' said Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey.

Yesterday afternoon, Keating met for about an hour at Hanscom Air Force Base with a small group of local victims of sexual abuse by clergy and with the leadership of Voice of the Faithful.

''There were two things I wanted him to know: that Voice of the Faithful is composed of people who love their church, and that Voice of the Faithful is committed to being part of the solution,'' said the organization's president, James E. Post. ''He sent strong signals that he understands those things.''

Sacha Pfeiffer of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/5/2002.
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