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Sex Abuse Panel Says It Remains on Course

August 02, 2003|From Religion News Service

An oversight panel that monitors the Catholic Church's response to the clergy sex abuse scandal said it will continue its work with "vigor and independence" after its outspoken chairman was forced to resign last month.

The church's National Review Board, in its first report, said it will not be slowed by the departure of former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who stepped down after comparing some church bishops to members of the Mafia.

"We wish to make clear that the work of the board has proceeded uninterrupted and with continued vigor and independence," the board said in a four-page report issued this week in Chicago. "The course we have charted remains unchanged."

The 12-member panel was appointed a year ago by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to implement the bishops' sex abuse reforms. The bishops' president, Wilton Gregory, has not yet named a replacement for Keating. In detailing the board's work over the last year, the report said all 195 Catholic dioceses have been given "state-of-the-art guidelines" for preventing future abuse, and said most are cooperating with an audit to measure compliance.

The report said 54 auditors, many of them former FBI agents, have visited 31 dioceses and expect to complete their work this fall. Their findings, which will show how many dioceses have implemented the bishops' reforms -- such as installing lay review boards and conducting background checks on priests -- are expected to be released to the public by the end of the year.

The board said it is prepared to publicly name dioceses that have not complied, "not as a threat" but because it was authorized to do so by the bishops last year.

The board reported that about two-thirds of the dioceses and male religious orders have completed a survey that seeks to tally the total number of accused priests and victims. Some bishops, most notably Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony and other California bishops, had resisted the survey because of privacy concerns.

The board said most bishops are now cooperating with the researchers from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and preliminary findings are expected to be released early next year.

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