- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Two days ago, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating stepped down as chairman of the review board investigating sex abuse in the Catholic Church. He was facing resistance from a few of the most powerful prelates in America, some of whom pushed for his resignation after the former prosecutor and FBI agent characterized episcopal stonewalling as tactics perfected by “La Cosa Nostra.” Mr. Keating defended his view in his resignation letter, saying, “To resist grand jury subpoenas, to suppress the names of offending clerics, to deny, to obfuscate, to explain away; that is the model of a criminal organization, not my church.” While his directness and impolitic choice of words might rankle the fainthearted, the criticism is valid.

As sad and inexplicable as it may be, many bishops still act like the answer to priest sex scandals is more covering up. The showdown that led to Monday’s resignation occurred between Mr. Keating and Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has at least 400 allegations of abuse in his own archdiocese. His Eminence, and the 12 other ordinaries in California, refused to cooperate with a survey on local abuse cases and voted unanimously that the study itself should be cancelled. Approximately one-third of the bishops governing America’s 195 dioceses have not responded to the investigation.

Last year, amidst a flood of bad publicity, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted new guidelines to handle clerical misdeeds, created the review board, appointed Mr. Keating as its head and charged the body with the inquiry. The lack of cooperation from bishops like Cardinal Mahony lends validity to the complaint that last year’s measures were insincere and intended as mere damage control.

The issue is deeper than sex and abuse of power, as radicals are using the weakened authority of the hierarchy to further their agenda for leftist reform in the church. For example, Voice of the Faithful, a prominent group founded in the wake of the scandal ostensibly to deal with sex abuse, is comprised of leading dissenters on church teaching against abortion, divorce, homosexuality and married or women priests. One of Mr. Keating’s failures was to give too much voice to this faction of rabblerousers. Catholic doctrine is not the issue; molestation — a clear violation of the moral precepts of the religion — is. With Mr. Keating gone, the review board is now dominated by those opposed to conservative religious ideas, such as Clinton defense lawyer Robert Bennett. The leading candidate to be the next chairman is board member Leon Panetta, whose public career as a congressman and President Clinton’s chief of staff spurned church positions on social issues, such as abortion.

When appointed last year, Mr. Keating said that, “The Church needs a thorough scrubbing.” This was a call to clean up immorality, not to do away with moral standards, as some of the dissenters are trying to do. The response to hypocrisy cannot be relativism. The scandals have given many leftists a club with which to take whacks at an institution that stands against much that is bad in our culture. By their lack of contrition, many bishops have aided and abetted the revolutionaries in their pews. Mr. Keating’s frustrated probe, and the politics behind it, signal more troubles for the Catholic Church in the future.

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