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 Washington Notebook

May 12, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 18

Joe Feuerherd, NCR Washington correspondent


"This is not changing the role of the bishop. It's not saying that lay people will determine theology and issues of faith and morals. ... [The bishops] need to appreciate the fact that we are, together, laborers charged with cleaning this up."

Frank Keating
former chairman of the National Review Board


Keating on review board-bishop spat; 'Openly subversive' universities; CUA law students seek recognition of gay group

By Joe Feuerherd

Last June, facing criticism over his comments comparing the U.S. Catholic hierarchy to the Mafia, former Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating stepped down as chairman of the National Review Board charged with investigating the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Earlier this week, through its release of correspondence between the bishops and the board, NCR revealed that dozens of bishops want to defer or derail a second round of audits designed to measure diocesan compliance with child protection programs called for in the June 2002 Charter of the Protection of Children and Young People.

The relationship between the board, now chaired by Illinois Justice Anne Burke, and the bishops is, it appears, at a comparable point to that of a year ago.

Keating, speaking from the Washington office of the American Council of Life Insurers where he serves as president, is not surprised.

"These acts of sedition and resistance occurred around this time last year," he recalled. "I know that some were offended by my aggressive rhetoric, but I felt it was necessary because I could see the backsliding early."

"I think that some within the hierarchy have been irked that lay people would be so forward as to suggest to them how to clean up their own Augean stable," said Keating.

"The annual audits were a statement to the Catholic lay people that we will send in CPAs and law enforcement to make sure that you'll do what you said you'll do. For [a bishop] to look down his thin nose and say 'I don't really need to be told what to do' is a terrible blunder because they do need to be told that this is unacceptable and that they need to clean it up themselves with lay guidance and advice."

He continued, "This is not changing the role of the bishop. It's not saying that lay people will determine theology and issues of faith and morals. We have a crime committed here and lay people know how to help clean up criminal conduct. [The bishops] need to appreciate the fact that we are, together, laborers charged with cleaning this up."

Keating complimented the panel he once chaired. "They did yeoman's work and the bishops in Dallas did the right thing in recommending criminal referrals, transparency and zero tolerance. I just wish that some of my fellow board members had seen this earlier rather than later."

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Said Keating, "People leave churches because of things like this. If they think their pastor is corrupt, if they think their religious leaders are indifferent to their salvation and only interested in the mortgage payment, they'll leave. I'm a very committed Catholic and this should be an opportunity to recognize evil, root it out, and move forward."


George W. Bush is slated to give three commencement addresses this year, none of them at Catholic universities. He's lucky in that regard, because if he were to address a Catholic crowd, the Cardinal Newman Society would declare him a "scandalous" choice. At least they would if they consistently applied their guidelines.

Bush, you see, supports embryonic stem cell research, though his policies limit it to existing stem cell lines. That's a position directly counter to church teaching.

Similarly, despite his anti-abortion record, the president supports exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is threatened. That alone should be enough to draw the wrath of the Virginia-based group, the mission of which is to promote "the educational ideal espoused by John Henry Cardinal Newman and further developed by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

The society's "ecclesiastical advisors" include seven U.S. archbishops and three bishops; its "spiritual advisors" include Fr. Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things, and Franciscan Fr. Benedict Groeschel. Its board includes longtime Catholic conservative activists Connaught Marshner and L. Brent Bozell, as well as Fr. Paul Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In the half-dozen years it has issued its "annual review of commencement speakers and honorees at Catholic colleges," the Newman Society has focused its attention on schools that invite pro-choice public figures to address their graduates. Last year's notable targets included "Hardball" host Chris Matthews and journalist Cokie Roberts.

This year, the list includes some of the usual pro-choice suspects: California Sen. Barbara Boxer (Dominican University of California), New York Sen. Charles Schumer (Iona University), and former Sen. George McGovern (University of San Francisco). Cokie Roberts (Fairfield University) made the list again, while New York State First Lady Libby Pataki is the most prominent Republican.

"When Catholic institutions honor well-known abortion advocates like Barbara Boxer and Chuck Schumer, they are being openly subversive," said Cardinal Newman Society president Patrick J. Reilly. "Not only are they scandalizing students and impeding the church's aggressive efforts to end legalized abortion, but they are flaunting their nonconformity in a very public way."

Perhaps the most provocative addition to the list, however, was Josephite Sr. Helen Prejean. The Dead Man Walking author, who delivered the May 2 commencement at Belmont, California's Notre Dame de Namur University, is out-of-line with church teaching on, of all issues, capital punishment, says the Newman Society.

Here's what the society says about Prejean: "According to Our Sunday Visitor, Prejean criticized the 'loophole' in Pope John Paul II's encyclical Evangelium Vitae, in which he allows for the death penalty 'in cases of absolute necessity' and requires individuals to make their own prudential judgment according to their conscience. The newspaper also reported that Prejean opposed abortion but argued that poor women without emotional support have little 'choice' to make the right decision."

The annual list, says Reilly, has had an impact. "A number of colleges privately consult us and contact us confidentially several months in advance with some of the commencement speakers they are considering and ask if we see any reasons for concern," said Reilly.

Rounding out this year's list: former Clinton administration acting Attorney General Walter Dellinger (Boston College), television host Hugh Downs (College of Santa Fe), Black Enterprise magazine publisher Earl Graves (College of New Rochelle), former New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis (DePaul University - School for New Learning), New York State Legislator Thomas Morahan (Dominican College), Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill (Emmanuel College), columnist and television anchor Steve Adubato (Felician College), Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (Loyola University of New Orleans) journalist Helen Thomas (Ohio Dominican), former Surgeon General David Satcher (Regis College), Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities president Monika Hellwig (St. Joseph's College, Rennselaer, IN), San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (University of San Francisco School of Business), and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux (Xavier University of Louisiana).

And what of George W. Bush, who, though delivered the commencement at Notre Dame University in 2001, didn't make the Newman Society list that year?

"Certainly if his position is opposed to the church on those issues [stem cell research and abortion exceptions]," said Reilly, he would be treated "just like anyone else."

Which is more than a little hard to believe.


Several dozen Catholic University of America (CUA) first year law students want to form a university-funded gay students association.

Given CUA's ties to the bishops, and the high-profile role the hierarchy is playing in issues ranging from gay adoption to gay marriage, their likelihood of success would seem remote, if not impossible.

But these are future lawyers, and they're smart.

In an effort to appease the school's administration, the students envision a narrowly-focused group and have adopted a conciliatory tone. "We are simply asking for a group to have a forum to bring in speakers" where issues such as "where the law intersects with the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender) community," says first year student Sarah Bromberg.

"We are not an advocacy organization and there will be no social component," says Bromberg. It's all about education, says the Virginia native, who argues that CUA students will be at a professional disadvantage if they are not exposed to the legal issues faced by the gay community.

The group's leaders will meet over the summer with law school dean William Fox to make their case, said Bromberg. The goal is to be officially recognized so that they are eligible, like other student organizations, for funding through the Student Bar Association.

The future lawyers, it seems, were wise to choose their words carefully.

"Because it is the national university of the Catholic church in our country, The Catholic University of America does not foster or promote any organizations that represent or advocate positions contrary to the mission of the university, which mission includes the teachings of the Catholic church," said university spokesperson Victor Nakas.

"The university administration and its board of trustees consider organizations that advocate a homosexual lifestyle and/or homosexual activity incompatible with the teachings of the Catholic church, and therefore, incompatible with the mission of the university."

Whether these future advocates can convince CUA law school administrators that the group seeks to "educate" rather than "advocate" would seem key to getting the gay students association recognized.

The e-mail address for Joe Feuerherd is

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