10 Questions: About Clergy Sex Abuse

Monday, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and Cardinal Roger Mahony agreed to the biggest settlement yet in a national scandal that has engufled the Catholic Church. It agreed to pay $660 million to over 500 alleged victims of clergy sex abuse.

It's another sad chapter in a sad story for the Catholic Church in America, one that begin when the Boston abuse scandal was revealed in 2002. To put this in context, and get a better understanding of what it means and how the Church has coped with this crisis, we decided to pose this week's 10 Questions to Frank Keating.

Keating is the former governor of Oklahoma who was appointed chairman of the National Review Board, a panel created by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to make sure churches are complying with new rules designed to prevent the abuse of children by priests and religious. His one-year term on the board was marked by controversy and sharp disagreements with some of the Church hierarchy -- most notably, with the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Mahony.
1. Cardinal Mahony has presided over the Los Angeles Archdiocese for more than 20 years. What sort of job has he done?

Not being a member of that archdiocese for those 20 years, I am probably not in a position to discuss the overall performance of Cardinal Mahoney. I am sure he has done many great things for Catholic causes in southern California. My problem was with the way he handled the sex abuse scandal and his reluctance to help resolve the issues and problems.

2. Part of the settlement involved making the confidential documents
public. What might we learn from them?

While none of us looks forward to reading more stories of agony and sadness, I think lifting the veil of secrecy from this process can be beneficial. As a lay Catholic who believes the Church was harmed by this scandal, I would like to know what Cardinal Mahony knew and when did he know it? How many examples are there of priests who are known pedophiles being allowed to serve, being shipped around from parish to parish?

3. You were asked to be the chairman of the National Review Board for
the Catholic Bishops but resigned in summer of 2003 after comparing some of the bishops to La Cosa Nostra. What were your obstacles then and why did you compare them to the Mafia?

While most bishops took the matter seriously and worked closely with law enforcement to sort out the facts and root out the problem priests, others were resistant and almost combative. My comment about La Cosa Nostra was to suggest that some of the bishops, including Mahony, were listening more to their lawyers than their hearts. They were throwing up legal roadblocks and impediments and not allowing law enforcement and the public to get at the true facts. It was Cardinal Mahony who led me to resign from the board but I have never regretted my statements.

4. Is there now a strong outside entity monitoring the church?

While I think the National Review Board established some strong practices, including--at my suggestion-- using law enforcement investigative methods to review cases, I really think the true monitoring of the church should not come from outside but from within. The lay community of the church needs to be vigilant in holding their priests and bishops accountable. I also would like to commend the work of the victims groups in keeping public pressure on these bishops.

5. Maybe the worst thing the church did was to move priests who were
abusive from parish to parish. Is that no longer happening?

I would agree. It's an abomination that any man of faith, like a bishop would allow a child molesting priest to continue to serve. It's extremely disappointing that a culture like that was allowed to exist within the church. I would hope that public attention to the scandal as well as criminal and civil cases that have ensued would have put a stop to it.

Sadly, I can't say with certainly that has happened.

6. Are children safer now than they were, say, five years ago? What has the church done to protect the children and prevent these tragedies?

While the problem was severe, I need to make the point that in most cases, children in the church are extremely safe and most priests are responsible, caring men of God. I think the public discussion and outcry has led to more scrutiny and, we can only hope, fewer problems.

7. How can the church recover from this scandal and regain people's

I think that is done parish by parish, church by church. It takes courageous Catholic leaders, both priests and lay people, who make it clear that conduct like this will not be tolerated, nor will any attempt to cover up that conduct. The church has taken some steps towards trying to regain the confidence, but the perception remains that they were dragged kicking and screaming into reforms.

8. The LA payout was huge and the total so far in all the dioceses is
about two billion dollars. With so much money involved, there are inevitably some people who are making false or unproved charges to make quick money.
What if anything can be done about that?

One of the things I insisted on as chairman of the Review Board was to bring in law enforcement professionals to examine these claims and cases. Child molestation is a crime and accusations of it should be investigated like a crime with full attention to the facts. Under my watch we brought in the highest ranking woman in the FBI to head the investigations of these cases. While there might be some out there looking to get rich, most of the victims suffered for years without the ability to tell their stories and seek justice. I hope the events of the past few years have allowed them to attempt to come to grips with what happened to them.

9. Do you think the church has turned a corner on this and that the
worst is behind it?

I can only hope so. The public attention to the problem has certainly helped.

10. How have these scandals affected your own faith?

My church allowed some horrible things to go on. I understand how Catholics might wonder about the integrity of their faith and their faith's leaders.
Actually, though, my faith is stronger now than it was in 2002. I see now why Christ would have chosen Judas as an apostle, one of the twelve whom Catholics believe were the Church's first bishops. Jesus was making a statement that the leaders of his Church would be frail men, sometimes foolish and sometimes evil. It was a very helpful revelation.