Church leaders accused of impeding reform

CHICAGO (AP) — The head of the review board set up to monitor Roman Catholic bishops’ response to the clergy sex abuse crisis has accused the church leaders of returning to “business as usual” to impede reform efforts.

Some bishops are trying to block the National Review Board from conducting an audit this year to determine whether all 195 U.S. dioceses are following reforms aimed at ridding the priesthood of abusers, Illinois Appellate Court Judge Anne Burke wrote in a letter published Tuesday.

“Those who said the bishops were never serious about breaking free from the sins, crimes and bad judgments of the past will be vindicated,” Burke wrote in a March 29 letter to Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Burke confirmed to The Associated Press the authenticity of the text, posted on the Web site of National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper.

The 12-member board of lay Catholics, appointed by U.S. bishops in 2002 to oversee the church’s reform efforts, is required to release an annual audit, Burke said.

The board issued its first audit in January. But in March, the U.S. hierarchy’s 50-member Administrative Committee delayed authorizing a second round of audits for this year, saying some bishops wanted to discuss the issue first.

Burke accused some bishops of hiding their attempts to block the audits. “In short, we were manipulated,” Burke wrote.

Her protest, on behalf of the full board, caused church leaders to put the issue on the agenda at a closed-door June meeting of all American bishops.

The bishops’ policy on handling sex abuse does not call for annual audits of the U.S. dioceses, said Monsignor Francis Maniscalco, director of communications for the U.S. Conference of Bishops said Tuesday.

“The bishops are not saying they won’t do this or do that,” Maniscalco said. “We need to be involved in this decision.”

Burke plans to leave the board in June along with three other panel members — William Burleigh, Robert Bennett and Leon Panetta — as part of terms previously determined by the board and bishops.

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