- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

OKLAHOMA CITY Led by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, the lay board monitoring how Roman Catholic bishops comply with their new sex-abuse policy showed critics and doubters this week it that plans to be much more than a token group.
The National Review Board met for just the second time but was already in a hurry to perform its duties.
It decided, for instance, that in a matter of weeks it will release the names of any U.S. bishops who aren't in compliance with the cleanup policy the nation's hierarchy passed in June.
The board wasn't required to do that for a year or more.
It also asked victims' organizations for their input on which bishops aren't living up to the abuse policy, which calls for any priest who molests minors to be removed from church work.
It dispatched an urgent request that leaders of men's religious orders change course and follow the bishops' plan.
And the board assigned battle-tested Washington lawyer Robert Bennett, one of its members, to head the investigation authorized by the bishops that will examine how the abuse crisis began.
"Time is of the essence here," Mr. Keating, the board chairman, said. His position is that the church has been severely damaged by the waves of scandals and that the board's repair work must begin immediately.
Mr. Keating said the other board members have taken a similar attitude and won't be deterred by critics, including a few bishops, who have questioned whether the governor and some of his colleagues are right for the job.
The board, he said, "became more determined and more steeled by the assault on its integrity."
The archdiocesan newspaper of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, who triggered the abuse crisis with his reassignment of a serial molester, was among those attacking Mr. Keating.
The paper chastised the governor after he said Catholics who lose confidence in their local bishop should attend Mass elsewhere and withhold contributions. Mr. Keating's own archbishop, Eusebius Beltran, accused him of telling Catholics "to commit a mortal sin" on the Mass issue. But Mr. Keating stuck to his opinions this week.
On a personal level, Mr. Keating said he has been stunned and infuriated by the scandal. He immediately said yes when, to his surprise, the president of the U.S. bishops' conference asked him to head the National Review Board.
"I said, 'I love the church, and the devil's gotten in the door,'" Mr. Keating said.
But the plain-speaking former federal prosecutor also had one condition. He told Bishop Wilton Gregory, the conference president, that he wouldn't serve unless the prelates agreed to remove all past abusers from the active priesthood, as well as applying that strict policy in the future.
Mr. Keating said he didn't fly to the Dallas meeting, where the bishops approved the sex-abuse policy, until they had passed a plan to his liking.
Now he and the board are in the unprecedented position for lay Catholics of being able to judge the performance of bishops in an official capacity.
"The board members don't view themselves as co-prelates or super-Catholics," Mr. Keating said. "We want to do our business and go home."
Still, the job will take years, and Mr. Keating may emerge as one of the two most important lay Catholics among the more than 60 million American members of the church. The other could be the as-yet-unnamed director of the new Office for Child and Youth Protection on the bishops' national staff.
On Monday, the review board sent two lay Catholic nominees for director to the general secretary of the bishops' conference, who is expected to make the appointment within two weeks. The two names weren't revealed, but one has a law enforcement background and the other is an expert on the pathology of child abuse.
Mr. Keating and the director will work in tandem especially when the term-limited governor leaves office in January and becomes president of the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington, where the bishops' staff is located.
The importance of their job hit Mr. Keating in August on a trip to Ireland, where he met the two persons leading the abuse investigations there. They told him the church is losing a generation of young people as a result of the scandals.
The governor believes he and his colleagues can help restore the church's credibility.
"That is the reason why this lay role is so important," he said, "and that it must succeed."

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