Letters Reveal Bishops' Infighting

By Larry B. Stammer
Wichita Eagle [United States]
Downloaded May 13, 2004

New tensions within the U.S. Roman Catholic leadership have surfaced with the release of previously confidential letters in which an independent national review board on sexual abuse warned bishops that they risked "backsliding" in their commitment to protecting children from pedophile priests.

In a scathing late March letter to the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, released Tuesday, the National Review Board's interim chairwoman, Anne Burke, scolded bishops for taking a "business-as-usual" approach as the clerical sexual-abuse scandal has faded from headlines. Burke, an Illinois Appellate Court justice, said the bishops had "manipulated" the board and denied it information on future monitoring.

At the same time, bishops were arguing over whether to delay a second audit by the review board on how well dioceses were complying with tough new policies meant to stop the sexual abuse of minors.

In a Feb. 2 letter, Cardinal Edward Egan of New York urged a delay in talks about the new audit until a November bishops' meeting. Egan was criticized in the 2003 audit for failing -- in his former post as bishop of Bridgeport, Conn. --to remove a priest who faced accusations.

Egan's letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the bishops' conference, drew a sharp response from Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who opposed waiting until November, according to Burke.

Mahony warned that he and other California bishops would not attend a national meeting in June unless bishops took up the issue at that time, Burke said. Mahony was in Rome on Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Following that exchange, the executive committee of the bishops' group decided to include the audit and related issues on the June agenda. However, Burke and a spokesman for the bishops' group said Tuesday that there was no indication whether the prelates would merely discuss the audit or authorize it.

"There can be no more foot-dragging by the hierarchy," Burke said Tuesday night at an appearance in northern New Jersey. The first leader of the board, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, quit last year after he also accused some bishops of being obstructionists.

This is a "defining moment" for the church, Burke told members of Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform lobby group.


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