Kathleen McChesney will be named director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection, a critical post as the bishops try to re-establish their credibility after a year in which at least 300 of the 46,000 American priests have been removed because of allegations of sex abuse.
McChesney's appointment was to be announced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at a Thursday afternoon news conference. Justice Anne Burke, an Illinois appellate judge and vice chair of the National Review Board, said McChesney was chosen from a pool of more than 50 candidates. "Kathleen rose to the top almost instantly," Burke said. "She's trained on how to be an impartial fact-finder and to present evidence and that was big."
McChesney will leave her FBI post as executive assistant director for law enforcement services. That job was created by FBI Director Robert Mueller following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to improve the relationship between federal and local law enforcement. McChesney took the job last Dec. 1.
McChesney started with the FBI in 1978 in San Francisco. She became special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office in 1999 and in June 2001 went to Quantico, Va., to be assistant director of the agency's training division.
Review board member Robert S. Bennett, the Washington attorney who represented President Clinton in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, ran the search for the director. He said the panel approached McChesney. "She was just made to order," Bennett said. "The critical thing to protecting children and young people is to see to it that all of these dioceses comply with the charter. One of her principle responsibilities at the FBI was to see to it that various offices complied with FBI and Department of Justice policy."
Susan Archibald, president of the victim advocacy group The Linkup, said she's hopeful McChesney will influence the bishops. "This is a step in the right direction in terms of choosing someone who has a law enforcement background and has worked for an institution dedicated to justice," Archibald said.
But the Rev. Robert J. Silva, president of the National Federation of Priests' Councils, said he was concerned by the board's choice of a federal investigator. Silva has been among Catholics who believe the bishops' approach to accused priests since the crisis began has been too punitive and has ignored Catholic teaching on redemption. "I hope that she will be able to balance that aggressive investigative side with a sense of church discipleship and the mission of reconciliation," said Silva, whose organization represents about half of U.S. priests.
Bennett said priests concerned about their due process rights should not be upset about the appointment of a federal investigator. "Let's face it, the crisis was generated by some pretty awful conduct," he said. "I think her law enforcement background is a benefit."
The child protection office was created under the sex abuse policy the bishops approved last June in Dallas. While parts of the policy have since been revised--and will be voted on again by the bishops next week--the youth-protection office wasn't effected.
The office will create "appropriate mechanisms to audit adherence," the policy says. Among the office's duties is issuing an annual public report naming dioceses that are not in compliance with the national policy. It also will advise bishops on forming local "safe environment" programs to prevent future abuse cases.