- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

A national board reviewing sex abuse in the U.S. Catholic Church yesterday adopted a charter that forbids bishops from settling complaints secretly and began a search for a tough director for an office of enforcement.

During its first meeting, the National Review Board of 12 lay Catholics approved the charter passed by the U.S. bishops last month in Dallas and geared up to tap a leader for the Office for Child and Youth Protection by Sept. 1.

"We happen to think most dioceses are doing a good job after Dallas," said Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, chairman of the board, which was appointed by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. bishops.

He and Bishop Gregory, speaking at a Washington D.C. press conference with all 12 board members, said no one but the pope can remove bishops over disputes on handling sexual-abuse cases.

But, said Bishop Gregory, "No bishop wants to add his name to that list" the review board will keep of dioceses that defy the charter.

The board heard remarks from the advocacy group Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and will hear from more abuse victims when they next convene in Oklahoma on Sept. 16.

But yesterday ended with apparent confusion on whether the board "agreed" to attend a "weekend retreat" filled with abuse and survivor testimonies.

SNAP leaders said they did, but the review board vice chairman, Justice Anne M. Burke of the Illinois Appellate Court, cited the volunteer group's busy schedule. "We're open to listening to people," she said.

SNAP Executive Director David Clohessy gave credit to Mr. Keating for meeting with the group and inviting it to speak but promised to keep watch on the board. "The overwhelming majority of Catholics expect quick, decisive and overdue action from this body," he said.

Board members said August will be filled with conference calls and subpanel meetings in search of a former law-enforcement officer or prosecutor to head the protection office.

The sex-abuse scandal made headlines in January when court proceedings revealed the cover-up of an abusive priest in Boston. Last month, the U.S. bishops met in Dallas and adopted rules to assure the church and the public of a "zero-tolerance" policy on sexual abuse.

To enforce the charter, the U.S. bishops established the review board of prominent public figures, including Washington lawyer Robert Bennett and former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

The board, in turn, oversees the U.S. bishops' child-protection office, which annually reviews each of the nation's 96 dioceses to make sure bishops and local boards are "in compliance."

"We want to know what the individual diocesan bishop is doing," Mr. Keating said.

Informants should call the protection office about noncompliance, Justice Burke said. "We want the information," she said. "Let the office know."

On Monday, SNAP released a list of seven states where, according to newspaper reports, bishops have violated the charter by reassigning accused priests or fighting to keep records secret in court.

Nicholas P. Cafardi, dean of Duquesne University Law School, said the review board will gather monthly for the next half-year, though the mid-September meeting is six weeks out because of preliminary projects.

"We feel a sense of urgency," he said.

Mr. Keating said the next major topic will be two reports contracted to independent researchers on how the sexual-abuse problem developed in the church, and on the statistics of who and what is involved.

"We love our faith," Mr. Keating said. "We want to help excise the criminals, the predators."

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