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  Catholic Sex Abuse Victims Demand Names
Keating Pressed to List Bishops Not Cooperating with Sex-Abuse Panel

By Susan Hogan/Albach shogan@dallasnews.com
The Dallas Morning News [Dallas Texas]
June 18, 2003

Catholic sex abuse victims want Frank Keating to name names.

The former Oklahoma governor, who resigned Monday as head of the lay review board set up to scrutinize the church's handling of sex abuse cases, wasn't shy about saying some bishops act like Mafia leaders, stonewalling and subverting the law. However, he has refused to identify the bishops he says are resistant.

Victims don't understand why, saying that Mr. Keating now has nothing to lose and that public pressure could force those bishops to comply, if only out of embarrassment. American bishops will meet this week in St. Louis.

"It makes no sense for him to shield these bishops," said David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "He would serve his church well and himself, not to mention victims, if he were to candidly expose the most recalcitrant bishops."

A spokesman for Mr. Keating said that though he appreciates the victims' sentiment and shares their frustration, he "doesn't think it would be healthy" to disclose the names of bishops refusing to cooperate with the 13-member review board.

"There's still a process under way with the board, and he feels comfortable that the board is doing a good job with that process," said the spokesman, Dan Mahoney. "They're keeping watch on the bishops."

Church officials said it's unlikely that Mr. Keating's replacement will be named at the bishops' meeting. Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will eventually make the appointment.

"It's not an agenda item, but it's likely to come up for discussion," said Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, the bishops' spokesman. "Bishop Gregory will consult with others, but he doesn't want to be held to a timeline."

The bishops approved an abuse policy last summer in Dallas under pressure from victims and lay Catholics. A year later, critics say they've yet to satisfy demands to account for their role in shielding predator priests.

Last year, the bishops said they were forbidden under church law from including punitive measures in their policy for bishops who mishandle offenders. Only the pope can discipline them, they said, but they promised to call one another to "fraternal correction."

Accountability concerns

Nancy Dallavalle, a theologian at Fairfield University, said that Mr. Keating's "Mafia" remarks might have been off base but that he accurately described a serious shortcoming among church leaders - a lack of accountability.

"In many cases, the bishops have not grasped that the lens of accountability is now much broader than whether sex abusers will be moved around," she said. "This seems clear to almost everyone else."

She said the resignation of Mr. Keating, a hard-nosed former prosecutor and FBI agent, has caused many Catholics to doubt whether the bishops will ever be accountable to the board they established with Vatican approval. She questioned whether the bishops would pick another leader willing to stand up to uncooperative prelates.

"Everyone is asking is whether the appointment of a new head is going to be a step forward or a step backward," Dr. Dallavalle said.

As bishops arrive in St. Louis on Wednesday, a group of lay Catholics, Survivors First, plans to unveil a Web site listing more than 1,600 U.S. priests accused of abuse. The site, www.bishop-accountability.org, is also to include e-mails from Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony dealing with that archdiocese's handling of sex-abuse case.

It was the cardinal, and his role in urging California bishops initially to refrain from completing a sex-abuse survey from the review board, that provoked Mr. Keating's harsh criticism. Had Mr. Keating not stepped down, the cardinal planned to call for his ouster in St. Louis.

Two-thirds of the nation's 195 dioceses have reportedly completed the survey, which hasn't been released. But some bishops are refusing - saying the data could open them to further lawsuits.

"There are some good bishops who feel it's awkward and wasn't well-crafted," said Deal Hudson of the conservative Catholic magazine Crisis. "Then there are those bishops who have dragged their feet because they don't want the information out."

At the conference

The bishops' sexual-abuse committee is scheduled to offer a "brief report" on the crisis Saturday, the final day of their three-day conference. Utah Bishop George Niederauer, a committee member, said he was unsure what the report would contain because the committee isn't holding its formal meeting until Saturday afternoon - behind closed doors.

"There will probably be an update about how the program is going," he said. "It's not like we're going to meet early and come up with something."

The bishops have publicly pledged transparency and accountability in dealing with the sex scandals that led to the dismissal of more than 425 priests last year, church officials said.

The scandals continue to take a toll.

On Tuesday in the San Angelo Diocese, Bishop Michael Pfeifer led a funeral for the Rev. David Espitia, a Colorado City, Texas, priest who hanged himself Friday.

Father Espitia had recently confided that he had been accused of abuse, the bishop said. The priest denied the charges.

Bishop Pfeifer said Tuesday that the priest seemed happy in a visit only a few days ago. .

"It's a terrible loss," the bishop said en route to the cemetery. "Suicide is always terrible, and it's the last thing you expect from a priest."

 
 

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