Why Frank Keating Resigned

You’ve probably already heard that Frank Keating recently resigned from the bishops’ lay review board. This is big news for everyone concerned about the sex abuse scandals. And there’s more to this story than what the media reported — including the inevitable question, who will take his place?

But I’ll tell you about that in a minute. First, some background…

Keating, the former governor of Oklahoma, was hired almost exactly a year ago to lead the group that monitors the bishops’ implementation of their new sex abuse policy. After a year of leadership characterized by his outspokenness on the abuse scandal, many people are surprised that he’s throwing in the towel now.

They shouldn’t be. From day one, Keating has been in a struggle with certain bishops who are more interested in covering up their profound failures than in clearing up this crisis.

And that proved to be the final straw for Keating.

When the lay review board tried to distribute a survey to the bishops asking how many priests in each diocese are accused of abuse, the California bishops — following the lead of Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony — refused to cooperate.

Disgusted by the bishops’ refusal to live by their own rules, Keating told the Los Angeles Times, “I think there are a number of bishops — and I put Cardinal Mahony in that category — who listen too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart. To act like La Cosa Nostra [the mafia] and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy…. Eventually it will all come out.”

Mahony, who has always identified himself as a reformer during the investigations, bristled at the comment. His spokesman dismissed Keating’s complaints, saying that he “is not an authority on California law or the pastoral concerns of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.”

With this kind of stonewalling from the Church hierarchy — the very same leaders who were supposed to be encouraging the review board in its work — Keating realized that he could get no further.

And so, instead of going along with it, he resigned.

Frank is a friend, so I gave him a call to get his side of the story. It’s not the one you’ll get in the papers.

One of the great difficulties of the job, he told me, was walking the fine line between working with the bishops and still holding them accountable to change. “The challenge for me,” he said, “was to have the appropriate level of umbrage and outrage so the changes we need would be made.”

It’s definitely a tricky situation: Keating was hired by the very people he was supposed to be overseeing. How do you tell your boss that he’s not doing a very good job without being fired yourself?

Did Keating regret not apologizing to Mahony for his comments? Not a chance. “I had no struggle about not apologizing…. We are a faith institution, a Church — we are not a criminal enterprise. We should not be in the habit of suppressing or denying or obfuscating.”

True. There are certain bishops who have made a big show about investigating the crisis, while working behind the scenes to make sure the investigation doesn’t come to their own diocese.

In the end, Keating said, the bishops are only hurting the faithful still in anguish over the situation. How, after all, can we find any relief when some of our own bishops aren’t committed to real reform?

But Frank doesn’t think his resignation spells the end of the review board. And though he may have stepped down from his official position, he still thinks that an outspoken laity is the best way to encourage genuine reform.

“The only way we are going to have success is by outspokenness of the laity,” he said, “not by changing the theology of the Church, but by changing some of the shabby practices of its leadership.”

I think we can all agree with that.

So, what now? Maybe Keating’s resignation will shake things up a little. “The bishops have encouraged the resignation of the cop they hired,” he told me. “My hope is that this resignation will accelerate the process of reform.”

In one case, at least, this seems to be true. Frank noted that Steve Cooley, the District Attorney for Los Angeles, called him up shortly after his resignation and said, “If it weren’t for you speaking out, I’m not sure we would have made any progress. Now the diocese [of Los Angeles] is slowly beginning to cooperate.”

This is good news for the review board. But the problem remains: Who will take Keating’s place?

It’s possible that the bishops will choose someone already on the board or who has worked closely with the board during the investigations of the past year. But potential candidates need to have more qualifications than just an understanding of the situation.

First of all, loyalty to the Magisterium is a must, especially on the issues of sexual morality. This isn’t the time to be arguing with the Church’s teachings. Instead, we need to find someone willing to stick to them — and who will make sure that others do the same. This automatically excludes Leon Panetta, a pro-abortion “Catholic” currently on the board (and who really shouldn’t have been on the board in the first place).

Secondly, they need to be able to act independently. Keating suffered no end of criticism from people on all sides of the issue — people who hoped to influence the way he went about conducting investigations. While the next director should be able to listen to and work with everyone, in the end he (or she) needs to be objective and impartial when applying the rules.

And finally, the new leader needs to be strong enough to lay everything on the line. As Keating’s resignation shows, some of the bishops will have no problem working against the review board, and it takes a strong person to stand up to that kind of pressure. The situation in Los Angeles is improving because of Keating’s resolve, but it can’t stop there. The next leader needs to be tireless in this respect.

Whoever they choose, the bishops must act quickly before the review board’s momentum is spent. Keating did an admirable job with his turn at the wheel. We need someone ready and willing to pick up where he left off.

And we need it soon.

Deal Hudson is editor and publisher of CRISIS Magazine. You can reach him via email at hudson@crisismagazine.com.

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