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Spotlight Report

Church editorial admonishes Okla. governor's comments

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 8/10/2002

The official newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese yesterday rebuked Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma, the chairman of a national panel on the church's handling of clergy sexual abuse, saying that Keating had urged Catholics ''to commit a mortal sin'' by suggesting that those who are dissatisfied with their bishops attend Mass in other dioceses.

Mike Brake, a spokesman for Keating, dismissed the editorial in the Pilot, saying Cardinal Bernard F. Law should pay more attention to protecting children and implementing the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by Catholic bishops in June, and less attention to criticizing the governor.

''The editorial seems to miss a central point, which is that the Archdiocese of Boston ought to be implementing the charter and not squabbling with the national chairman of a national review board,'' Brake said. Law is publisher of the Pilot.

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said Law is traveling and she does not know whether he had seen or approves of the editorial. She said the cardinal does not write editorials.

With the editorial, Keating has now become a target of both the archdiocese and some of its most promiment critics.

Less than two weeks ago, David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, faulted Keating for retreating from comments he made in June, when Keating said he would call on bishops who had failed to protect children to resign.

Appearing under the headline, ''Is Keating for real?'' the Pilot's editorial yesterday said Keating ''is not just a `concerned Catholic,' or a wealthy, suburban baby boomer playing with fire, but the appointed leader of the newly formed `National Review Board on Clergy Sexual Abuse.''' It then chided him for comments it said he made during an interview with a WHDH-TV reporter in which Keating discussed action that might be taken by Catholics unhappy with their bishops' response to the clergy sexual-abuse scandal.

''That's a time for the lay community of that diocese to say we are not writing another check, we are not going to go to Mass in this diocese. In effect a strike, if you wish, a sit-down until things change,'' Keating said.

Brake said the quotation does not differ from similar remarks Keating has made on numerous occasions since he was named to chair the panel by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the editorial, the Pilot declared: ''For a Church-appointed official to publicly orchestrate a kind of protest that would call for the faithful to stop contributions or, worse, to boycott Sunday Mass - in effect, calling all Catholics in a diocese to commit a mortal sin - is just surreal.''

The Pilot accused Keating of a ''lack of prudence,'' adding, ''We hope that [his comments] will not pass unnoticed by those who appointed him to his current position.''

Stephen J. Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College, said the editorial used ''crummy theology'' that was in vogue decades ago when church leaders used the threat of permanent confinement to hell to scare the faithful into attending Mass.

''Attending Mass is a serious obligation, but we don't say that if you skip Mass on Sunday for whatever reason, your soul is in peril of eternal damnation. What we do say is, you've missed an important opportunity to develop a relationship with fellow parishioners and develop your own spiritual integrity.''

Pope also noted that Keating has not called on Catholics to skip Mass but to attend Mass in a different diocese if they are dissatisfied with the way their bishop has responded to clergy sexual abuse.

''Looking for a parish or diocese where you find spiritual nourishment shows a very serious commitment to Christianity and the church,'' Pope said. ''It's exactly the opposite of a mortal sin.''

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 8/10/2002.
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