Review Board Head Opposes Naming Clergy, Women Religious to Board

Catholic News Service [Chicago IL]
September 23, 2004

CHICAGO (CNS) -- The interim head of the bishops' National Review Board has criticized any effort to place a priest or a woman religious on the board, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with child sex abuse prevention policies.

A cleric or woman religious has vows of obedience that could lead to pressures by church officials on how the board monitors compliance, said Justice Anne M. Burke.

Burke said she and other board members objected when they received a fax in mid-September from the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., with the name of a nun on the list of individuals to replace the five current board members whose terms expire before the end of the year.

"So that's a step backward," she said.

"This does diminish the ability to be transparent," she added.

Burke discussed her views in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service Sept. 21 and in two speeches Sept. 20 at Loyola University in Chicago.

A USCCB spokesman told CNS that the decision has not been made yet on the new board members.

Burke, an Illinois Appellate Court judge, said the core group of lay people asked to help form the board in 2002 were clear in discussions with Bishop Gregory that the board be composed completely of lay people with wide-ranging expertise in different professions involved in protecting children.

"People in the pews in the U.S. respect us. This needs to continue," she said.

A Chicago Tribune article said that Sister Carol Keehan was the name on Bishop Gregory's list. Neither Burke nor Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, USCCB spokesman, would confirm the name.

Sister Keehan, a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, is chairwoman of the board of directors for Sacred Heart Health System in Pensacola, Fla.

Msgr. Maniscalco said that Bishop Gregory acceded to the 2002 request of the core group that all the board members be lay people.

"But it is not required" under church policies, he said.

The "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which spells out the abuse prevention policies, does not exclude any group from review board membership. It says only that the review board include parents.

Burke said that a list of candidates was jointly presented to Bishop Gregory by the review board and the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

It was the board's understanding that Bishop Gregory would choose only from this list, which did not contain the names of priests or women religious, said Burke.

Burke is one of the board members who will be replaced. Her term expired in June but she agreed to stay on until a replacement is named.

Msgr. Maniscalco said that Bishop Gregory "can add a name to the list." He said the bishop has consulted widely regarding new members and will probably make public his decision prior to the bishops' general meeting Nov. 15-18.

Candidates for the board are still being interviewed, he said.

Technically, women religious and religious brothers are lay people because they are not ordained. But they are required to take vows of obedience to their religious superiors and are not commonly referred to as laity.

In her Loyola speeches, Burke said that some bishops want clergymen to become part of the board.

"How much freedom and independence do you think we would have if there were members of the clergy on the board?" she said.

Burke added that her time on the board has been rewarding but also frustrating.

Many bishops support the board but there are "forces within the hierarchy that are seeking to derail much of what has occurred," she said.

Board members often have had to "raise 'holy hell'" to get their points across, added Burke.

"Nothing -- I will say this again -- nothing could have adequately prepared one for the encounter with the politics of the institutional church. And I say that having a husband who has been an elected public official for the past 36 years," she said.

Her husband is Chicago Alderman Edward Burke.

"I have been around Chicago politics for a long time ... but the machinations encountered in the ecclesiastical version during this period of fear, perplexity and suspicion was at times medieval, certainly Byzantine," she said.

Vatican cardinals "acknowledged the selective flow of pertinent information at times between Rome and the United States. And we could sense the manner in which some American church leaders were adding their own spin to what was unfolding here," she said.

Regardless of the scandal's outcome, Burke said it is unlikely lay U.S. Catholics will ever allow the hierarchy to go back to their old ways.

"Any return to the procedures of the past would be a national disaster," she said. "Things cannot be as they were before."

Contributing to this story were Patrick Butler in Chicago and Agostino Bono in Washington.


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