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Spotlight Report

LA bishop criticizes Keating remarks

Seeks a review of lay panel chief

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 6/14/2003

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony (AP Photo)

Frank Keating (AP Photo)
One year after US bishops named a blunt-spoken former prosecutor to oversee efforts to curb clergy sexual abuse, a leading prelate is suggesting he be removed from the post - a move that victims' advocacy groups said yesterday would deal a serious blow to the church's credibility.

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony openly questioned how Roman Catholic bishops in America could continue to support former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating after he compared the resistance some bishops have shown toward gauging the full extent of the abuse to the secrecy of the Mafia.

''To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy,'' Keating said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Thursday. ''Eventually it will all come out.''

That comparison enraged Mahony, who vowed to push for an assessment of Keating's suitability for his position as chairman of the 13-member National Review Board, when US Catholic bishops gather in St. Louis next week for their semiannual conference.

''A lot of bishops are going to St. Louis and a good number of them are concerned,'' Tod Tamberg, Mahony's spokesman, said. ''Governor Keating's remarks and the controversy they have caused take our focus off the ball, which is to make sure that we have the most comprehensive study that we can have of what happened over several decades and to make sure it's never replicated again.''

Keating was in Connecticut on business yesterday, and a spokesman said he was not available for comment.

But Leon Panetta, a member of the review board, said Keating and the Los Angeles cardinal need to ''lower their voices and get back to work.''

''I've been in politics and I've heard a lot more colorful language used in politics, so it doesn't bother me so much,'' said Panetta, a former California congressman and White House chief of staff. ''If we let either someone in the church or someone on a lay committee basically throw off the principal objective, that's what concerns me.''

Any suggestion that Keating should be removed for questioning the bishops' commitment to total disclosure is ''almost inconceivable,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

''Here we have an obviously smart, caring Catholic layperson who had volunteered his time, and to some degree, his reputation to help get to the bottom of this mess, and essentially before he begins, we have an influential prelate in a tizzy,'' Clohessy said. ''What's really troubling about this is that they're just gathering information now, which should be the simplest and least controversial step. If information gathering is met with resistance, it doesn't bode well for phase two, which is the bishops changing and improving their behavior.''

US bishops meeting last June in Dallas created the National Review Board and tapped Keating to lead it. The panel was asked to monitor compliance with a new national abuse policy.

As part of that work, the panel commissioned a national survey designed to find out how many priests have been accused or convicted of sexual abuse in the United States in the past 50 years. Until this week, Mahony balked at participating because, he said, the survey's methods were flawed.

''The forms were very poorly designed by people who apparently have no understanding of the Roman Catholic Church, ecclesiastical culture, hierarchical structure, or the language of the Roman Catholic Church,'' Mahony wrote in an April 23 letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

When the survey was refined, Mahony agreed to take part. But Keating called resistance by the cardinal and other bishops startling. ''I think there are a number of bishops - and I put Cardinal Mahony in that category - who listen too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart,'' Keating told the Los Angeles Times.

Mahony said in a Los Angeles Times interview published yesterday that other bishops agree that Keating's comments warrant consideration of his dismissal, but Tamberg declined to name those bishops.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for Bishop Richard G. Lennon, interim administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, said Lennon was not aware of Keating's comments or Mahony's reaction to them.

Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for Cardinal Edward Egan of New York, said Egan would confine any comments on the matter to private discussions with other bishops.

Kathleen L. McChesney, executive director of the US bishops' Office for Child and Youth Protection, called Keating ''a wonderful person to work with. And he has the interest of children foremost in his heart.''

Since his appointment last year, Keating has displayed the plainspoken and gregarious style of a man who does not mince words. In an interview with the Globe last fall, he said he was particularly disturbed by the cases of the Revs. John J. Geoghan and Paul R. Shanley, two Boston priests who were accused of molesting multiple youngsters at multiple parishes.

''Did anyone go to Geoghan or Shanley ... grab him by his collar, and say ... `If I hear one more time that you have come near [a minor], I will kill you?' Did anybody ever do that? Not that I can find,'' he said then.

Clohessy said he did not consider Keating's remarks this week to be intemperate.

''He didn't say all or most or even many bishops act like the Mafia,'' the SNAP national director said. ''And even if he did seem intemperate, it's hard to fault someone for responding with dismay to continued coverups of horrific crimes.''

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, a Jesuit weekly, said any move to depose Keating would be very controversial because he was chosen for his independence. ''He was never supposed to be under the bishops' control,'' he said. ''That was the whole point.

''All he needs to do is apologize and get back to work. The positive aspect of this story is that it clearly shows that Bishop Gregory appointed a committee that people could trust. They're not lapdogs of the bishops. And once they do issue a report, it's going to be very credible.''

Thomas Farragher can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/14/2003.
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