Frank Keating: The work of cleansing the Catholic church of abuse isn't done ... and it will take determined, demanding leadership

By Frank Keating
Tulsa World
September 16, 2018

I chaired the first National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People. It was created by the Catholic bishops of the United States in 2002 to implement their reform charter and to investigate the scandal.

Accusations of clerical sexual abuse and cover-up had exploded from Boston and ripped across the land. The bishops threw down the gauntlet. No more of this. The clergy is to be celibate. No girlfriends. No boyfriends. Going forward, there would be zero tolerance of sexual crimes against the young. Every accusation of clerical sexual misconduct was to be referred to law enforcement.

And there would be transparency. If the church settled an abuse-related lawsuit, it should be on the front page of the newspaper.

The board consisted of lay Catholics, including such luminaries as Leon Panetta (later U.S. Secretary of Defense), Robert Bennett (acclaimed super lawyer) and Anne Burke (Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court).

I attended Catholic schools from first grade through college. I never heard of priests molesting or attacking anyone, including me or my classmates. This surely was a smudge. A blemish. It didn’t go deeper than that.


The first meeting of the board was at the governor’s mansion in Oklahoma City. We agreed to hear from a victim or his family so that we would know why we were meeting at all.

Our first witnesses were a middle-aged couple from an adjoining state. They told of their son who was raped and sodomized by a priest. When they had shared their grief, I spoke for the board.

“Thank you for coming. We feel for you and hope for you and pray that your son will be fully restored to health.”

“Fully restored to health is it?” the father asked incredulously. His color rose, and he began to shake.

“Our son committed suicide.”

And the slightest of a slight smile crossed the face of Satan.

Months later, a representative of the order priests appeared before us. He spoke for the Franciscans, the Augustinians, the Jesuits and other teaching orders. He brought and placed on the table a pile of booklets, titled “What to do if you are accused of clerical sexual abuse.”

As he spoke and as my board colleagues peppered him with questions, I picked up one of the booklets and began to read.

“Did you write this?” I asked. “Have you read this?” I pressed further. He answered “no” to both questions. “Let me share with you then what it says: ‘If you are accused of sexual abuse, you should calm yourself by taking up woodworking or birdwatching.’ ”

Bennett later called and asked if I had seen an email sent to each member of the board. In it, a then-senior staffer of the Oklahoma City archdiocese said that the board should know who its chairman really is. The email alleged that I never go to Mass and openly kept a mistress. Neither allegation was true. When I complained about the email publicly, the writer said he hadn’t meant the email to be spread, but I believe it was intended to undermine the board by undermining me. The writer never contacted me to apologize.

Laughter and tears contorted the face of Satan.

The board hired John Jay College to investigate abuse reports in each of the nation’s dioceses and to issue a report. It found that in the preceding 50 years, 4 percent of priests violated their vows and molested children and young people. A fraction of that number were convicted and sent to prison. Four hundred priests were removed from the priesthood.

Case closed? Most reporting today is of long-ago cases and dead defendants. But we missed the vile Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. Could there be others? Perhaps. That is why the country’s bishops need to order a new board, and it must be filled solely with people who eat thumb tacks for breakfast.

The faithful expect it. God demands it.


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