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Bishops appoint sexual abuse review panel

Published Jul. 25, 2002|Updated Sep. 3, 2005

The nation's Roman Catholic bishops Wednesday announced the appointment of a sexual abuse review board made up of active Catholic laypeople, including some who work for church organizations, but no one from victims' advocacy groups that have been most critical of the church.

Among members are Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for the Clinton administration; Dr. Paul R. McHugh, former chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; and Nicholas Cafardi, the dean of Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh, who also has served as legal counsel to several church bodies.

The chairman of the board, Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, and some of the appointees said their main mission is to restore confidence in a church they love, and not to seek the discipline or prosecution of bishops who failed to remove abusive priests.

"All of us are independent-minded people, all of us deeply love our faith," Keating said in a telephone news conference Wednesday, "but all of us are shocked, outraged and angered by what has occurred and will do whatever we can to contribute to the restoration of the faith."

The bishops, at their meeting in Dallas in June, called for the creation of the review board to monitor the bishops' compliance with their new policies on sexual abuse, to initiate studies on the causes and extent of child abuse in the church, and to work with the bishop's new Office for Child and Youth Protection.

The only psychiatrist on the panel is McHugh, who was a founder and board member of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, a group that raised skepticism in the 1990s about adults who claimed to have recovered long-buried memories of childhood sexual abuse or incest. He has testified as an expert witness on behalf of accused child abusers.

McHugh said that while he believes most of the priest sexual abuse cases do not involve false memories, his expertise could help the panel's work.

"False memory syndrome was a major epidemic of psychiatric misadventure, and we pretty much put an end to it," McHugh said.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he was appalled at McHugh's inclusion . He added that SNAP members were disappointed that the only panel member identified as a victim is Dr. Michael Bland, a former priest who now works in the victim assistance ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

"It is telling that out of the thousands of abuse survivors," said Clohessy, "they pick only one that happens to be an archdiocesan employee and ex-priest, and not a single person who's identified as an independent voice for survivors."

Several other board members have close ties to the church. Jane Chiles is vice president of the National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors, an umbrella organization of groups that lobby for Catholic causes in state governments.

Cafardi served for 13 years as legal counsel for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, sometimes handling sexual abuse cases, and still represents several religious orders.

They join the previously announced members of the group: Keating; Robert S. Bennett, President Clinton's former defense lawyer; Justice Anne M. Burke of the Illinois Court of Appeals, and Bland.

The board will have its first meeting Tuesday in Washington. It is expected to include one more woman, who is still awaiting permission from her employer to serve.

All the members were approved and informed of their selection by Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Keating said Gregory had suggested a board of as many as 20 members, which could include non-Catholics, nuns and priests.

But he said the initial core group of four board members preferred to keep the board smaller, with 13 members, and limit it to practicing lay Catholics.

"We felt it was important that the Catholic Church _ and one out of four Americans is a Catholic _ heal itself and not call upon outsiders to do so," said Keating.

Appointee, Pamela D. Hayes, an attorney in New York City who once prosecuted sex abuse cases in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, said, "I certainly hope that we will be able to restore confidence to the church community that they're part of a body that will deal with this issue," she said in an interview. "The church provides our religious salvation, and if you can't have confidence you're in big trouble. And I really want some help for the victims. You've got to put them first."


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