Head of Abuse Panel Blasts Church's 'Code of Silence'
The text of Keating's resignation letter--and Bishop Wilton Gregory's surprising reply
WASHINGTON (June 16, 2003) -- In a hard-hitting letter to Belleville Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating resigned as chair of the bishops' National Review Board, which works with the bishops to enforce recently-adopted sexual abuse policies.
Far from apologizing for the "La Cosa Nostra" comments that prompted his resignation, Keating's letter spells out the governor's dissatisfaction with the bishops' "code of silence." "My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate," he wrote.
Just as remarkably, Bishop Wilton Gregory responded to the letter by praising Keating, despite severe criticisms of the former Governor from other bishops. Replying to Keating's letter, Gregory wrote that given the magnitude of the sexual abuse crisis, "there were bound to be moments of difficulty. At such times I found you open and responsive to my assessments of the situation."
The text of both letters follows.
Dear Bishop Gregory:
As I have shared with you over the last two months, I intended to relinquish my chairmanship of the National Catholic Review Board on the first year anniversary of the creation of the Board. That time is this week.
During the last year, we accomplished much. Under your leadership and with the bishops' own mandate, we have begun the causes and context, scope and audit processes. The audit is the most significant. Never again will any bishop be able to hide or avoid the scandal of sex abuse in his diocese. As a former FBI agent and U.S. Attorney, I am convinced that pouring law enforcement and audit resources annually into each diocese will reclaim Catholic lay confidence. All of us can be assured of zero tolerance, transparency and criminal referral because outsiders will make sure that that is the case. We also created the Office of Child and Youth Protection, headed by a law enforcement professional. Our message was clear. Sex abuse is not just a moral lapse. It is a crime that should be fully prosecuted.
As I have recently said, and have repeated on several occasions, our Church is a Faith institution. A home to Christ's people. It is not a criminal enterprise. It does not condone and cover up criminal activity. It does not follow a code of silence. My remarks, which some bishops found offensive, were deadly accurate. I make no apology. 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.
The humiliation, the horrors of the sex scandal must be a poisonous aberration, a black page in our history that cannot ever recur. It has been disastrous to the Church in America.
Most of America's bishops are fully supportive of the Board's efforts. They have led and led well and have stood up for virtue. Your own leadership has been extraordinary and courageous. You are a model of the Good Shepherd.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve our Faith. Frequently, it was an agony, but with humility and a devotion to the simple truths of the New Testament, good will always prevail.
Dear Governor Keating,
I have received your letter in which you offer your resignation as chairman and as a member of the National Review Board. I accept your resignation with an awareness of the enormous contribution you have made to the Church in the United States and to the Board as its first Chairman.
A little over a year ago the Bishops passed the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in which we recognize the necessity of having significant lay participation in assessing whether we are living up to what we pledge in the Charter. I will always be grateful to you for your immediate and generous willingness to contribute to this unprecedented endeavor.
Both as a devout Catholic and as a governor who met the challenge of leading his state through the tragedy of a devastating act of domestic terrorism, you struck me as having the qualities needed to take on the task that I gave to you. Your work this past year only served to confirm my early intuition.
Because the task you took on was unprecedented and had to be carried out in an intense environment which gives rise to strong emotions under the close observation of the media, there were bound to be moments of difficulty. At such times I found you open and responsive to my assessments of the situation.
The Board's contribution to resolving the sexual abuse crisis depends on its willingness to offer an honest appraisal of the steps being taken by the Bishops to protect children and young people. I know it was in this spirit that you sought to lead the Board during its first year, and I am sure it will continue in this fashion.
With heartfelt gratitude for your contribution and with prayers and best wishes for you and your family, I am
Sincerely yours in the Lord,
Bishop Wilton D. Gregory