LOS ANGELES – One of the most powerful Roman Catholic leaders in the nation said in an interview published Friday that he may ask fellow bishops to consider removing former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (search) as head of a national panel reviewing priest abuse allegations.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony (search) said he was outraged by a statement Keating, the panel's chief overseer, made this week comparing some unnamed members of the church heirarchy to the Mafia (search).
"All I can say is, from the bishops I've listened to -- and several called me this morning -- this is the last straw," Mahony told the Los Angeles Times. "To make statements such as these -- I don't know how he can continue to have the support of the bishops. I don't know how you back up from this."
The bishops meet next week in St. Louis, and Mahony told the newspaper he is considering raising the question of whether Keating, a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor, should remain in his appointed role as head of the National Review Board (search).
Keating had told the Times earlier this week: "I certainly have concluded that a number of serious officials in my faith have very clay feet. To act like La Cosa Nostra (search) and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy."
One person applauding Keating's remarks was Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, whose office has been investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests. The office has charged eight current or former priests and a former seminarian with sexually abusing children and expects more charges.
For more than a year, Cooley said, the archdiocese has been "aggressively resisting" turning over subpoenaed church documents relating to investigations. Keating "apparently has been as frustrated as we have been in our efforts to secure information," he said.
Church lawyers have argued that the documents contain communication between Mahony and the suspected priests that is protected by the First Amendment. The issue is pending before a judge.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (search) appointed the National Review Board last year to survey all 195 U.S. dioceses and determine how many priests had been accused of sexual abuse since the scandal surfaced in January 2002. Keating was appointed to head the panel by the conference president, Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, Ill.
Mahony's initial resistance to that survey led to conflict between Keating and the cardinal, who heads the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese. Keating accused Mahony of listening "too much to his lawyer and not enough to his heart."
"I appreciate he's watching out for the best interests of his diocese," Keating told the Los Angeles Times this week. "But we have a mandate for transparency, full disclosure and openness. That's what we're carrying out."
Mahony called the former governor's remarks "irresponsible and uninformed."
California bishops had believed the survey violated California privacy laws. The college that created the study agreed this week to make changes that would take those laws into account, said Carol Hogan, a spokeswoman for the California Catholic Conference.
Archdiocese spokesman Todd Tamberg said Mahony has never met, spoken to nor corresponded with Keating.