Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating’s reported decision to resign as head of a national panel examining sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests would be a serious setback, but not a fatal one, observers said Sunday.

Keating’s media spokesman Dan Mahoney said the former governor plans to resign as chairman of the National Review Board this week, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday, and sources later indicated an announcement could come as early as Monday.

Mahoney conceded that the timing was “awkward” but portrayed it as a planned departure after a year on the job, the Times said.

Messages left by The Associated Press with Mahoney’s and Keating’s offices were not immediately returned Sunday.

The communications director for the U.S. bishops’ conference, Monsignor Francis Maniscaldco, said he had no knowledge of any imminent resignation plan but said, “frankly, we’ve had a lot of rumors lately.”

A resignation would follow on the heels of a Times interview where Keating said of unnamed church officials: “To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy. Eventually it will all come out.”

Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, whom Keating accused of listening “too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart” in dealing with the panel’s investigation, called Keating’s comments “the last straw.”

The cardinal said he would ask other bishops to consider calling for Keating to step down during the full hierarchy’s meeting that opens Thursday in St. Louis.

The Rev. Thomas Reese of America magazine in New York said Keating’s departure would be “a setback for the bishops” and “another stumble on the way to cleaning up the bishops’ reputation.”

“The governor was obviously giving some of the bishops ulcers in the short run, but in the long run, if he had stayed around, any report he issued would have absolute credibility,” he said.

If Keating leaves, “it basically sends the message that if you’re too much of a straight shooter you’re going to get pressure to resign,” said Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis, a conservative Catholic magazine in Washington, D.C.

Hudson said that he spoke with Keating on Friday about the faceoff with Cardinal Mahony and that the governor gave no hint he would consider resigning.

Representatives of abuse victims expressed dismay at the possibility.

“It’s very disturbing that a couple of candid remarks are apparently so upsetting to the bishops,” said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, which also meets in St. Louis this week. “Here’s a devout, conscientious Catholic lay person who volunteered his time and essentially his reputation to get the bishops out of trouble and he’s suddenly forced out.”

Susan Archibald, president of The Linkup, another victims’ organization, said “the problem is he’s stepping down in reaction to criticism from a bishop, and what he said was the truth. If they hesitate to speak out against bishops, then what good is the process?”

Archibald was particularly disappointed that fellow review board members criticized Keating over his remarks.

Prominent Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett, the review board member who is running its investigation of why the scandal happened, said he had not heard about a resignation but insisted it would not slow the board’s work.

“There are many very strong and outspoken members on this board who are going to remain on the board and who are going to see to it that the bishops honor their commitment to protect children and the promises they made,” Bennett said.

“It is not what we say publicly. It is the work that we do,” he said.

Besides Bennett’s investigation, the board is sponsoring a survey of the extent and patterns of abuse cases based on reports filed by all 195 dioceses.

The verbal flareup with Keating stemmed from Cardinal Mahony’s initial refusal to participate in that survey unless procedures were changed.

Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill., president of the U.S. bishops, appointed Keating as chairman as well as the review board’s other 12 members as part of the reform “charter” the hierarchy approved a year ago.

The charter doesn’t specify what to do if the chairman resigns. Reese assumes Gregory would choose the new chairman and someone acceptable to continuing board members, most likely one of those members.

Reese said “the bishops are beginning to realize that being more transparent and open about these issues is more difficult than they anticipated.” But he thinks Keating’s “intemperate” quotes “got in the way of doing the job the review board is there to do.”

On the Net:

National Review Board and other “charter” reforms:

AP-ES-06-15-03 1658EDT

Facebook comments