success stories

Bishops Select Lay Board on Sexual Abuse Review

By Laurie Goodstein
From the New York Times

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops announced yesterday the appointment of a sexual abuse review board composed entirely of active Catholic laypeople, including some who work for church organizations, but no one from the victims' advocacy groups that have been most critical of the church.

Among members are Leon E. Panetta, former chief of staff for the Clinton White House; Dr. Paul R. McHugh; former chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Nicholas Cafardi, the dean of Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh who has been legal counsel to several church bodies.

The chairman of the board, Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, and some of the appointees said in interviews that their main mission was to restore confidence in a church they love and not to seek the discipline or prosecution of bishops who did not remove abusive priests.

"All of us are independent-minded people, all of us deeply love our faith," Governor Keating said , "but all of us are shocked, outraged and angered by what has occurred and will do whatever we can to contribute to the restoration of the faith."

At their meeting in Dallas in June, the bishops called for the creation of the review board to monitor their compliance with the new policies on sexual abuse, to initiate studies on the causes and extent of child abuse in the church and to work with the bishops' new Office for Child and Youth Protection.

The only psychiatrist on the panel is Dr. McHugh, who was a founder and board member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a group that raised skepticism in the 1990's about adults who said they had recovered long-buried memories of childhood sexual abuse or incest. He has testified as an expert witness on behalf of people accused of child abuse.

Dr. McHugh said in a telephone interview that although he believed that most of the priest sexual abuse cases did not involve false memories, his expertise on that issue could help inform the panel's work.

"It may have played a role in them choosing me, and I'm pretty proud of it," he said. "False memory syndrome was a major epidemic of psychiatric misadventure, and we pretty much put an end to it."

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was appalled at Dr. McHugh's inclusion. He said SNAP members were disappointed that the only person identified as a victim on the panel is Dr. Michael Bland, a former priest who now works in the victim assistance ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"It is telling that out of the thousands of abuse survivors," Mr. Clohessy said, "they pick only one that happens to be an archdiocesan employee and ex-priest, and not a single person who's identified as an independent voice for survivors."

Dr. Bland, who had given a scathing speech about his experience of abuse to the bishops at their meeting in Dallas, did not return a call requesting an interview yesterday.

Several other board members have close ties to the church, including Jane Chiles, vice president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, an umbrella organization of groups that lobby for Catholic causes in state governments.

Mr. Cafardi was legal counsel for the diocese of Pittsburgh for 13 years, handling some sexual abuse cases, and still represents several religious orders. He is a civil and canon lawyer who studied in Rome and has written a book on church property with Cardinal Adam Maida.

They join the previously announced members of the group: Governor Keating; Robert S. Bennett, President Clinton's former defense lawyer; Justice Anne M. Burke of the Illinois Court of Appeals; and Mr. Bland.

When Governor Keating's appointment was announced, with much fanfare, at the bishops meeting, he startled church officials by suggesting that the board could seek the prosecution of "criminally sanctionable bishops." But yesterday he qualified that, saying such responsibility rested first with local diocesan review boards, but that if necessary, "then yes, we will get involved."

The entire board will meet for the first time next Tuesday in Washington. One more woman is expected to be on the board, but she is awaiting permission from her employer.

All the members were approved and informed of their selection by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Governor Keating said that Bishop Gregory had suggested a board of as many as 20 members that could include non-Catholics, nuns and priests.

But he said that the initial core group of four board members preferred to keep the board smaller, with 13 members, and limit it to practicing lay Catholics.

"We felt it was important that the Catholic church -- and one out of four Americans is a Catholic -- heal itself and not call upon outsiders to do so," Governor Keating said.

He said that his core group generated a list of nine potential appointees, but some did not agree to serve and others did not qualify as practicing Catholics because they were not attending Mass. He was unclear about whether any of the appointments had been suggested by bishops.

One appointee, Pamela D. Hayes, a lawyer in New York City who once prosecuted sex abuse cases in the Brooklyn district attorney's office, said she thought she had been recommended to the panel by Bishop Gregory, whom she knew through her involvement in church organizations.

"I certainly hope that we will be able to restore confidence to the church community that they're part of a body that will deal with this issue," she said in an interview. "The church provides our religious salvation, and if you can't have confidence you're in big trouble. And I really want some help for the victims. You've got to put them first."