Archbishop Has Some Unkind Words for Church-Appointed Monitor
Myers Cites Bishops' 'Perplexity' at Her Decisions As a Reformer
By Jeff Diamant
Star-Ledger [Newark NJ]
May 1, 2003
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has delivered a stern rebuke to the woman charged by U.S. Catholic bishops to assess church reform in the wake of the priest sex-abuse scandal, saying her actions have perplexed a number of bishops.
Myers' remarks came in a letter declining an invitation to attend an upcoming meeting of a reform-minded group of Catholics, Voice of the Faithful. Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the Bishops' Office of Youth and Child Protection in Washington D.C., is scheduled to speak at the group's meeting May 13 in Little Falls. McChesney, once the third-highest official at the FBI, was hired in November by a national panel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"I have met with Dr. Kathleen McChesney," Myers wrote to a member of Voice of the Faithful April 21. "I can only say that her decisions and the conduct of her office leave more than a few Bishops for whom she technically works in a state of perplexity."
McChesney's main role is to assess and audit bishops' efforts to comply with policies instituted last year to prevent future instances of sex abuse by members of the clergy. Last year, the Catholic Church admitted that bishops had covered up incidents involving priests and children. At least 325 priests have since resigned.
Myers' spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the letter does not mean the archbishop rejects the role of McChesney's office. Goodness would not say specifically which actions distressed Myers, only that the archbishop's disappointment relates partially to her meeting with Voice of the Faithful.
Though not addressed to McChesney, Myers' letter seemed aimed as much at her as at Voice of the Faithful, a group that originated in Boston in response to the scandal and seeks a restructuring of the church to increase lay involvement. Myers has rejected its mission and is one of several bishops nationwide, including Camden Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, to bar Voice of the Faithful from meeting on church property.
The Newark Archdiocese includes 1.3 million Catholics and 234 parishes in Essex, Union, Hudson and Bergen counties.
Voice of the Faithful, which claims more than 25,000 members nationwide and contends it is mainstream and loyal to church teachings, has attracted many liberal Catholics open to far-reaching changes that Myers has condemned.
In his letter, Myers wrote that he has been investigating the group and has determined "it is aligned or being aligned with groups in the Church which are clearly in dissent from formal Church teaching. I think it would be a serious mistake for the Church to promote in any way an organization which is counter to its own teachings."
Myers' letter was in response to a letter from Waldwick resident Loretta Campbell, a Voice of the Faithful member. On April 6, Campbell wrote Myers encouraging him to reconsider his ban, and asked him to attend the May 13 meeting to listen, contribute insight, and pose questions.
"To have someone of Ms. McChesney's stature speaking in a parish a few miles outside the boundaries of the Archdiocese of Newark to a group of Catholics forbidden to assemble on church property within the (archdiocese) reflects very poorly upon this diocese, of which I and my family have been a part for more than thirty years," she wrote.
McChesney has no power to fire or punish bishops -- only the pope can do that -- and many bishops regarded the decision to establish her oversight office with suspicion. She can publicly release her office's findings.
Three weeks ago, at a conference of prosecutors and molestation victims in New York, she said the extent of sex abuse among Roman Catholic clergy remains unknown.
Myers has met McChesney twice, during visits to Washington D.C., Goodness said.
"There have been opportunities for bishops to meet with Dr. McChesney at different times, so it was nothing outside of a normal visit that he had been making," Goodness said.
Other than mentioning Voice of the Faithful, Goodness declined to elaborate on Myers' disappointment with McChesney: "Many of the bishops feel the office should be working toward certain ends," Goodness said. "They may not be seeing that happening yet."
To Maria Cleary, a leader of Voice of the Faithful in New Jersey, Myers' letter was confusing.
"We are perplexed as to why these people would hire somebody and then, if they're showing up to talk to Catholics, write letters saying that the conduct of her office leaves bishops in 'a state of perplexity,'" Cleary said.
DiMarzio was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his spokesman, Andrew Walton, said McChesney "brings great experience and competence to her position, and this diocese looks forward to working with her office as we continue our efforts to comply fully with the charter."
David Early, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said while he could not comment on Myers' letter, many bishops have received McChesney warmly, "are happy to meet with her" and offer to celebrate Mass when she visits their dioceses.
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