Nun's Role on Sex Abuse Panel Is Questioned

The Washington Post [Washington DC]
September 26, 2004

WASHINGTON U.S. Catholic bishops are planning to appoint a nun to their lay review board on sexual abuse, which could undermine the watchdog panel's independence, several members have charged.

Although the church considers nuns to be laity, some board members said the appointment could set a precedent for naming more nuns and priests to the board.

"It would begin to breach a wall that has served us well," said board member William Burleigh, chairman of the E.W. Scripps newspaper company.

Several board members said the bishops' administrative committee deviated from the expected appointment process last week by choosing Sister Carol Keehan, former president of Providence Hospital in Washington, to fill one of at least four openings on the all-volunteer board.

They said that Keehan was not among nine nominees submitted jointly by the review board and the bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse.

Keehan, who moved to Pensacola, Fla., this year to become chairwoman of a group of Catholic hospitals, said Friday she had not realized she was under consideration.

The board of 12 Roman Catholic lay people, appointed by the bishops two years ago, has had several public confrontations with the church hierarchy. Its first chairman, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, resigned in June 2003 after comparing a few bishops to "La Cosa Nostra" in their devotion to secrecy.

The board also issued a report in February that blamed bishops for decades of tolerating and hiding sexual abuse of minors by priests.

"Given the experience we've had in two-plus years now, we know this is very difficult work and requires at times taking a very tough stance," said board member Jane Chiles, a former lobbyist for Catholic causes in Kentucky.

A spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, declined to confirm or deny that the bishops intended to appoint a nun to the high-profile board.

"It's a confidential process," he said.


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