Chaput Rebukes Inquiry Panel

By Eric Gorski
Denver Post [Denver CO]
May 12, 2004

Denver Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput has rebuked a board of prominent Catholic lay people investigating the clergy abuse scandal, suggesting the group has overstepped its bounds and issued "implicit threats."

In a private letter made public Tuesday by the newspaper National Catholic Reporter, Chaput and his assistant, Bishop Jose Gomez, castigated Anne Burke, interim chairwoman of the National Review Board for the Protection of Young People.

Chaput and Gomez addressed Burke's claim that bishops held back information and manipulated the board for public relations reasons.

The dispute centers on whether to move ahead with a second annual analysis of whether U.S. dioceses are meeting requirements established by bishops two years ago in Dallas in response to the mushrooming priest sex abuse scandal.

In reaction to the lay board's concerns, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has agreed to discuss a second national audit during a closed-door prayer retreat in Denver next month, said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, a spokesman for the bishops conference. Previously, the bishops said they would handle the question in November.

The exchange is another example of the rift that has occasionally opened between lay review board members and Catholic prelates unaccustomed to opening their business to outside eyes. In June, Frank Keating resigned as board chairman after comparing U.S. bishops to the Mafia.

In a March 30 letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops conference, Burke wrote that putting off a second review of dioceses might stymie the work of the Dallas charter. Her letter was one of several released Tuesday by the National Catholic Reporter.

The first review found 90 percent of dioceses - including all three in Colorado - were meeting the Dallas standards.

Burke, an Illinois state appellate court judge, wrote that the 13-member board is "very disheartened by this apparent decision to go back to 'business as usual,"' and that delays would vindicate "those who said that the bishops were never serious about breaking free from the sins, crimes and bad judgments of the past."

She also criticized bishops for waiting to tell the board about the possible delay until after the release in February of a survey of priest abuse dating to 1950.

"We believe that the work we have accomplished these past 22 months is perceived by the bishops as having successfully deflected extensive national criticism," Burke wrote. "In effect, they have 'dodged the bullet,' and they are anxious to put these matters behind them."

In an April 2 letter to Burke, Chaput and Gomez wrote that her letter "assumes the worst motives on the part of the bishops, despite the progress that has already been made. Your language is designed to offend and contains implicit threats that are, to put it mildly, inappropriate for anyone of your professional stature."

The Denver prelates noted the Dallas charter does not require an annual audit "and the expense, staff and structures that would involve." They suggested conducting one every three or four years instead.

"It is not the (lay review board's) duty to interpret the Charter," the letter says. "The (board) is an important advisory body at the service of the bishops. It does not and cannot have supervisory authority."

In an interview Tuesday, Burke said a review is critical in the second year so comparisons can be made to Year One. Burke noted that while not calling specifically for an annual audit, the charter does call for an annual public report on dioceses' progress. How else to measure that, she asked, other than to review each diocese annually?

"Our interpretation is that it's complete defiance of the charter," she said.

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the church's National Office of Child and Youth Protection, said her office needs a mechanism to measure dioceses. She said it might be possible to audit on a rotating basis, where not all dioceses are evaluated every year.

Maniscalco, the bishops conference spokesman, denies any effort to hold information back from the lay board. He said the fact that the bishops moved the debate up to June shows that it's considered important.

Chaput spokesman Sergio Gutierrez criticized the release of private correspondence: "It hinders the dialogue that is necessary for the review board and the conference of bishops."


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