U.S. Bishops' Point Man on Abuse Panel Draws Criticism

Rebuked for Advising Catholics to Boycott Home-Diocese Masses

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WASHINGTON, D.C., AUG. 29, 2002 (Zenit.org).- The man picked by U.S. bishops to lead their clergy sexual-abuse review panel has come under heavy criticism for recommending that frustrated Catholics should boycott Mass in their own diocese.



Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, chairman of the National Review Board on clergy sex abuse, also suggested that Catholics should stop donating, if they don't like the way their bishop is policing priests, according to the National Catholic Register.

"That's a time for the lay community of that diocese to say we are not writing another check, we are not going to go to Mass in this diocese," Keating told a reporter from Boston television station WHDH last month. "In effect a strike, if you wish, a sit-down until things change."

While Keating denied he was counseling Catholics to miss Mass altogether, his remarks were condemned by the Boston Archdiocese's newspaper and by his own bishop.

The Oklahoma governor's "well-known, no-nonsense attitude may play well in the secular media, but there are certain things that are not admissible in the Church," read an editorial in the Aug. 9 issue of The Pilot. "For a Church-appointed leader to publicly orchestrate a kind of protest that would call for the faithful to stop contributions or, worse, to boycott Sunday Mass -- in effect calling all Catholics in a diocese to commit a mortal sin -- is just surreal."

Archbishop Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City said the governor's advice was wrong. "His statements are totally inaccurate, divisive and contrary to the teachings and beliefs of our Catholic faith," the archbishop said in a statement, the Register reported.

Keating later said his remarks were taken out of context. But he said that he would still counsel Catholics, if a bishop or pastor is "indifferent to the rape or abuse of children," to "vote with their feet, to go to Mass in a different diocese." That could take the form of attending Mass in a church not run by the diocese but by a religious order, he said.

It was not the first time that Keating has raised eyebrows.

Previously, he said he would use his new position with the episcopal conference to help lay people remove bishops who might have looked the other way or transferred known clerical abusers.

In June Keating explained his desire for more lay control over the Church.

"Remember," he told the Register, "it was Martin Luther who suggested early in his efforts that the lay community get involved in reforming the Church so there would not be a collapse of faith by the faithful."

"Unfortunately," he continued, "in retrospective, Martin Luther was right. Just think what positively could have occurred it lay people in the 16th and 15th centuries had been involved."

But Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia said he did not think Keating's new position authorized him to push for the resignation or firing of bishops. "Whether a bishop resigns is an issue between that bishop and the Holy Father, not a review board," the cardinal told the newspaper.

Robert Royal, leader of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C., said Keating was feeding a misdirected desire among some Catholics to reshape the Church into a political democracy. He faulted him for praising Martin Luther too. "As we know from the history of the Reformation, what starts as reasonable reform ... can lead to chaos," Royal told the Register.

Beyond Keating, the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the U.S. bishops last June has drawn mixed results so far.

Supporters of the policy say it is working. They point to the case of two New Jersey priests arrested recently for soliciting male prostitutes in Montreal; the pair came under the strict new policy that bars one-time offenders from public ministry.

But in another case, a priest was removed after it was learned publicly that he, as an 18-year-old seminarian three decades ago, had consensual sex with a 16-year-old girl. "It's ridiculous to remove him from ministry," said Father Steve Moore, a canon lawyer and vicar general for the Archdiocese of Anchorage.

Sensing that the sex-abuse crisis needs more attention than what was possible at the U.S. bishops' two-day meeting last June, eight prelates recently called for a plenary council to address the problem. The last plenary council for the United States was held in the late 19th century.

The Vatican is still reviewing the bishops' zero-tolerance policy.