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Spotlight Report

Lay panel sets wide review of church

Keating board to examine sexuality, role of celibacy

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 1/18/2003


Okla. Gov. Frank Keating (Globe Staff Photo / Stan Grossfeld)
NEW YORK - The national board created by the US Catholic bishops to examine the clergy sexual abuse crisis announced yesterday that it plans a sweeping examination of what went wrong, including an effort to determine the sexual orientation and practices of the church's avowedly celibate priests.

The lay panel, led by former Governor Frank Keating of Oklahoma and packed with high-powered Catholic judges, lawyers, and business leaders, said it hopes by June to issue the first comprehensive study by the church of the scope of abuse by Catholic priests. The study, panel members said, will attempt an authoritative accounting of the number of abusive priests and abused minors, the gender and age of victims, the time period during which the abusers were trained and ordained, and the amount of money paid out by the church to settle litigation and treat victims and offenders.

But the board said it would also embark on an unprecedented effort by a church-appointed body to determine what caused the crisis, focusing not on why individual priests molested minors, but on why Catholic bishops kept hundreds of molesters on the job as priests until public outrage forced change.

''For us to be complete, we have to deal with some of these big, big issues,'' said attorney Robert S. Bennett of Washington, a board member. ''I don't know how much value there is in spending too much time on why an accused priest did what he did - more important is why were priests permitted to move from parish to parish and diocese to diocese.''

Board members, after concluding a two-day meeting in New York, told reporters yesterday that they are determined to examine all possible causes of the crisis, including the roles of sexuality and celibacy, and the role of the church power structure. And they said they plan to undertake a sweeping epidemiological study focusing on the psychosexual development and behavior of Catholic clergy.

''We have to look at the institution, and at systemic problems,'' Bennett said. ''What is the role of celibacy? Of homosexuality? We are going to deal with the very tough issues. I'm certain we are not going to get into doctrinal issues, unless they are a cause.''

A variety of organizations, including news organizations and academic researchers, have attempted to assess the scope of abuse within the church and the sexual behavior of priests, but have always been stymied by a lack of cooperation by the church.

''People have tried to get their arms around these numbers for 12 years,'' acknowledged William R. Burleigh, chairman of the board and former CEO of the E.W. Scripps Company.

The panelists said they are optimistic that bishops will cooperate with its efforts, because the board was appointed by the bishops and charged by them with writing reports about the crisis.

''If someone doesn't cooperate, everyone will know about it,'' Bennett said. ''The laity is not going to tolerate a bishop who doesn't cooperate.''

Board members said they are divided over whether to push bishops to turn over the names of all abusive priests, something many bishops have been reluctant to do.

As part of the board's effort to determine what went wrong, it is planning to interview a number of Catholic prelates. Board members said that Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the former archbishop of Boston, agreed on Thursday to be interviewed by the board sometime over the next several months.

The board also said that the administrator of the Archdiocese of Boston, Bishop Richard G. Lennon, has invited the board's subcommittee on ''safe environments'' to visit Boston to review the archdiocese's new program for training children to resist or report abuse by adults and training adults to spot and report abuse of minors.

''We know Boston is getting high marks,'' said Jane Chiles, former director of the Kentucky State Catholic Conference, who chairs the subcommittee.

Chiles said her subcommittee will meet with Lennon, review Boston's training program, and meet with the archdiocese's liaison to victims.

The National Review Board was created by the US bishops' conference last June as part of a Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. The board, according the charter, is supposed to ''commission a comprehensive study of the causes and context of the current crisis in order to understand the problem more fully and to enhance the effectiveness of future response'' and to ''commission a descriptive study, with the full cooperation of the dioceses/eparchies, of the nature and scope of the problem within the Catholic Church in the United States, including such data as statistics on perpetrators and victims.''

The board is also supposed to assist the church's new Office for Child and Youth Protection in a variety of ways. That office, headed by former FBI agent Kathleen McChesney, is preparing to audit US dioceses for compliance with new rules that require removing all abusive priests from ministry. McChesney said she hopes to issue her first report in December.

The subcommittee examining causes of the crisis, headed by Bennett, has already interviewed three individuals, and has 10 more appointments over the next weeks. Bennett declined to say who he was interviewing other than Law and Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York, but said the subcommittee has a list of about 100 people with whom it wants to meet, including victims, authors of books about the crisis, and experts from across the ideological spectrum. He said he hopes to issue a report on causes of the crisis in a year to 18 months.

The epidemiological study of priests is led by Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a Lawrence native who serves as director of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University. McHugh said he wants to hire a secular research organization with experience interviewing people about sexuality to conduct polling and in-depth interviews that he hopes will lead to findings worthy of publication in academic journals. That study is expected to take as long as several years.

McHugh said he hoped the study would help explain ''what are the pressures on priests who offend.''

''The goal is to understand the causes and contexts of this abuse,'' he said. ''My reputation is at stake ... and I expect cooperation.''

The board members said they are optimistic that their efforts will help the church.

''What this is about is restoring trust,'' said Leon Panetta, former White House chief of staff and the director of the Leon & Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy in Monterey Bay, Calif. ''We've had trust badly damaged.''

The board has been meeting in a variety of locations around the country, as well as by teleconference and e-mail, and chose this week to meet in New York. The group was given a cold shoulder by Egan who declined either to celebrate Mass for the board or to provide an auxiliary bishop to do so. Egan also directed that the board not be allowed to attend dinner with the Knights of Malta, a Catholic fraternal organization, last night. Board members said other bishops have been more welcoming.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/18/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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