Board Head Optimistic about Audits

By Patricia Lefevere
National Catholic Reporter [New York]
June 4, 2004

The interim head of the National Review Board, the group charged with looking into the clergy sex abuse scandal, is convinced U.S. bishops will turn back efforts to end annual audits designed to monitor dioceses and their compliance with the 2002 Charter to Protect Children and Youth.

Anne Burke, an Illinois Court of Appeals Justice and interim chair of the review board, spoke to nearly 400 members of Voice of the Faithful at St. Paul's church in Manhattan May 22.

At the same meeting, Jesuit Fr. Joseph O'Hare, president emeritus of Fordham University and an associate editor of America magazine, called for changes in the church's clerical culture and managerial style.

Some 50 former FBI agents stand ready to conduct the audits under the leadership of Kathleen McChesney, who directs the bishops' Office of Child and Youth Protection. The office has been charged with monitoring compliance in each of the 195 U.S. dioceses.

But at least 31 bishops, including two cardinals and five archbishops (NCR, May 21), tried to postpone the audits or delay them until they could be discussed by the full body of bishops in November.

Burke's insistence that the 'campaign to sandbag the audits' violated the charter led to a meeting between members of the review board and the 14 members of the Bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

Burke said she left the May 17 meeting in Chicago with 'renewed confidence,' after the board and the bishops agreed that the issue of future audits would be discussed at a closed door meeting of the bishops June 14-19 in Denver. She said publication of the letters written by bishops and her response on the part of the board led to the meeting and her belief that 'wiser heads will prevail and the right thing will be done.'

Copies of their letters were posted May 11 on, and were also available at the conference.

Catholics are 'united by a shared faith and doctrinal loyalty,' she said, but also bound by 'a shared skepticism,' given the 'repeated failures' by U.S. bishops 'to make their actions match their words.'

It was Burke's fifth appearance before a Voice of the Faithful audience in recent weeks, following talks in her own Chicago archdiocese and in the dioceses of Peoria, Ill., and Paterson, N.J. She urged her audience to give priority to making the environment safer for children.

Lay Catholics need not only to participate with their checkbooks, she said, but also with their influence, virtue, gifts, intelligence, character and hope. Only in this way can the 'betrayals' and 'arrogance' in the church be healed.

In an interview with NCR, Burke said even after she concludes her term in June, she will continue to advocate for children as she did before joining the board in 2002. None of her three colleagues, who are also leaving the panel in June, will depart before their successors are named. The review board and the Ad Hoc Committee have submitted names of replacements, she said.

The bishops must be urged to fund further audits and longer-term studies of compliance, she said.

Jesuit O'Hare urged reform 'not in doctrine but in the way we communicate within the church; not a dilution in the mandate bishops receive to teach, sanctify and govern the faithful but change in managerial style.'

O'Hare said he hoped bishops would recognize the professional and personal competence of lay Catholics and be ready to accept the laity as stewards of its resources and give them responsible governance positions.

The Jesuit saw a sign that the times are already changing in the current controversy concerning prelates who have threatened sacramental sanctions on politicians who support abortion rights. 'It is not the most enlightened debate in the history of the church in the United States,' he said, but it may have some unintended benefits of 'breaking the silence that masks important disagreements among bishops.'

Patricia Lefevere, a longtime contributor to NCR, lives in New Jersey.


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