Are Our Children Safe Yet? an Interview with Frank Keating. (Interview)

Article excerpt

"The church needs a real thorough scrubbing," Frank Keating said last summer shortly after having been tapped to oversee the bishops' efforts to prevent and deal with derby sex abuse. The tough-talking former Oklahoma governor and prosecutor quickly made some prelates squirm when he initially suggested that bishops who had aided, abetted, or covered up the crimes of their derby should be held liable as accessories to those crimes.

Not used to being publicly reprimanded by their own appointees, some bishops have given Keating and his National Review Board a less-than-enthusiastic welcome in their dioceses. But despite criticism from both sides--from those who think the board is not independent and critical enough and from those who think it is too independent and critical--Keating believes that overall, through the processes and new policies now in place, the U.S. Catholic Church is making some real progress in dealing with the challenge of the sex-abuse crisis.

Having finished two terms as governor of Oklahoma in January, Keating is currently president of the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington, D.C.

What role does your National Review Board play now that the bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and their revised norms have been approved and their new Office for Child and Youth Protection is up and running?

The National Review Board exists solely for the purpose of carrying out the bishops' own mandate to themselves. And that mandate is transparency, criminal referral in every case, and zero tolerance of the kind of conduct that has brought such scandal to the faith.

We recommended that the bishops hire an executive director of the Office for Child and Youth Protection to implement their policies. Kathleen McChesney is a gifted administrator and a very focused law-enforcement Catholic. She is intolerant of crime and is intolerant of the behavior that brought this scandal to the church. Her office's primary role is to implement the charter on a day-to-day basis.

The National Review Board has three principal action agendas. First, at the request of the bishops, we have commissioned a study that will give us a clearer picture of how large the problem of clergy sexual abuse is. That study is currently being undertaken by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, and we should have a preliminary report from them sometime in midsummer.

That study will assess the size of the problem?

Yes, they're doing a thorough analysis of this problem, particularly in comparison to similarly situated institutions, both religious and secular.

The second agenda item is a separate study that looks at the causes and the larger context of the problem: What brought us to this point? What made it possible for predators to become priests and remain priests?

Where are you looking for answers to those questions?

We are using a combination of sources. Some are anecdotal, some clinical. Under the able leadership of board member Bob Bennett, dozens of interviews have been conducted. The purpose is to find the common denominator to all of this.

And what is the third agenda item?

Our third responsibility is a major national audit. We have retained Bill Gavin, a retired assistant director of the FBI, and Jim Quigley, a retired Ernst & Young CPA and managing partner, to audit each diocese in the United States.

With the bishops' directive we will go into each diocese and determine whether it has a lay review board, how well it functions, whether it is independent of the bishop, whether there is transparency--no hidden agendas or hidden settlements--and whether the policies of immediate criminal referral and zero tolerance have been put in place.

This is probably the most important part of our work: to make sure that every year, or as frequently as appropriate, we have a team of auditors go into each diocese to make sure that children are safe. …