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Spotlight Report

Keating to quit board on sex abuse

Stands by his criticism of some bishops' secrecy

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/16/2003


Frank Keating (AP Photo)

 Related stories
6/14/2003
Bishop criticizes Keating remarks

Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, who triggered controversy last week by comparing the actions of some Catholic bishops to those of a secretive criminal organization, is now planning to resign from the national lay review board studying the scope and causes of the clergy sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

Keating, who is the chairman of the review board, will submit his resignation today or tomorrow, his spokesman, Daniel J. Mahoney, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Keating had intended to leave the board soon anyway, but the controversy over his remarks has hastened his announcement, Mahoney said.

Keating's departure had been sought by other members of the lay board, who were concerned that his outspokenness had become a distraction. A devout Catholic who is a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, Keating in an interview last week likened the actions of some bishops to the secretive ways of ''La Cosa Nostra,'' the American branch of the Mafia. He singled out Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony for a reluctance to disclose church documents to a grand jury investigating the sexual abuse of children by priests.

Mahoney said Keating stands by the comparison, which he made in an interview with the Los Angeles Times published Thursday. The newspaper reported Keating's intention to resign yesterday.

''He is disappointed and frustrated that there has been a negative reaction to his public comments, but he stands by the public comments,'' Mahoney said. ''His use of the term `La Cosa Nostra' was to illustrate the point that some bishops would rather do things in secret and have a code of secrecy. The governor does use strong, vivid language, but he does so to make a point.''

Mahoney said Keating would resign in a letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Gregory, who appointed Keating to chair the board a year ago, yesterday declined to comment through a spokesman, Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco.

Other members of the national review board said Keating's departure would have little impact on their work, which is being conducted by a variety of subcommittees as well as a staff headed by a former FBI official. The board members, prominent Catholic laypeople chosen by the bishops' conference, are hoping to complete a study of the scope of abuse by Catholic priests by the end of this year, and to finish the first phase of a study of the causes of the abuse crisis by early next year.

But Keating's resignation is sure to bring a new focus on the bishops' semiannual meeting, which begins Thursday in St. Louis. The bishops had hoped that, for the first time since the fall of 2001, they would be able to gather for a session that was not dominated by clergy sexual abuse; instead they head for St. Louis with the attention of the news media now focused on the concerns raised by Keating.

The bishops, who in recent years have conducted most of their meetings in public, this week are planning to meet behind closed doors with members of the national review board to discuss their concerns about a questionnaire the board has developed to study the scope of the abuse crisis.

Keating, who currently works in Washington as president and chief executive officer of the American Council of Life Insurers, is not planning to attend the St. Louis meeting.

A tough-talking politician whose choice of words has occasionally been criticized as intemperate or impolitic, Keating landed in hot water last week when he talked with a reporter about the resistance by some bishops to cooperate with the lay panel's study of the scope of the crisis.

''To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy,'' he said.

Mahony, who has expressed concerns about the questionnaire developed by the review board, called Keating's comments ''irresponsible and uninformed'' in a statement posted on his archdiocesan website. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said the comments were ''the last straw'' and that ''I don't know how he can continue to have the support of the bishops.''

Members of the review board, who have previously urged Keating to rein in his use of potentially inflammatory language, were also unhappy with Keating's comments. Some, but not all, wanted him to resign.

''The board members are very concerned about his remarks, because they are a distraction, and anything that takes away from our goal of protecting children, such as a highly public war of words between Governor Keating and Cardinal Mahony, is not helpful,'' board member Robert S. Bennett, a Washington attorney best known for his legal representation of President Clinton, said in a telephone interview. ''But make no mistake about it: Frank Keating's heart is in the right place, and he has every right to be upset about what he is seeing, because while it is true that most of the bishops are cooperating, a few have not been.''

Bennett, who said Keating was ''properly concerned about some of the serious foot-dragging and backroom moves of a few of the bishops,'' said the board will continue to work apace even if Keating resigns, and that its voice will not be muted.

''There are many very strong voices on the board, and the board is going to call it the way they see it,'' he said.

One member of the panel, another Oklahoman, Ray H. Siegfried II, said yesterday that he would ask Keating to reconsider his plan to quit.

''He just called it the way he sees it - he told the truth, and not all of the bishops did, which some of them proved by allowing some of these abusers to go from one place to another and victimize more children,'' Siegfried, the chairman of an aviation service and manufacturing company called The NORDAM Group, said in a telephone interview. ''A few strong words never hurt anybody.''

But another member, Pamela D. Hayes, said Keating's remarks had endangered the board's credibility.

''You can't use such language, because it's inflammatory, and I don't think it's true. And it's really hard to use that type of language and then go back to the drawing board and work with the same people you're accusing of being in La Cosa Nostra,'' Hayes, a New York City attorney, said in a telephone interview. ''There was a sentiment on the board that Frank had to come to grips with what he had said, because you can't sink this whole effort just because one person said something that is not the sentiment of the whole board.''

Victim advocates, who have criticized the Keating commission for moving too slowly, say they are alarmed by the latest turn of events.

''Let's keep in mind that dozens and dozens of bishops have made hundreds of decisions that have caused irreparable harm to thousands of kids, while Frank Keating has uttered a couple of sentences that rubbed some bishops the wrong way,'' David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a telephone interview. ''The basic pattern is continuing: Somebody who speaks their mind, and seeks truth-telling and accountability, is attacked and then ostracized.''

Voice of the Faithful president James E. Post expressed regret over Keating's resignation, and called on the bishops to cooperate with the review board as it continues its work.

''Governor Keating has provided important lay leadership to the Catholic Church - and public service to all Americans - at a time when the clergy sexual abuse scandal weighs heavily on the moral credibility of bishops, cardinals, and church hierarchy,'' Post said in a statement e-mailed to reporters. ''His language may have antagonized some, but his commitment to cleaning up the stain of scandal was never in doubt.''

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/16/2003.
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