Abuse inquiry chief quits over 'Mafia of bishops'

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A former Oklahoma governor who was appointed a year ago to head a lay panel overseeing efforts by the Roman Catholic Church to overcome its child-molestation scandal was expected to step down this week because of remarks he made likening American bishops to members of the Mafia.

Frank Keating's decision to leave his post has dismayed church critics as well as former victims of sexual abuse by priests. "It's very upsetting 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.

The latest row comes days after Mr Keating gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times complaining that bishops had not been co-operating fully in addressing the scandal and exposing wrongdoers. "To act like La Cosa Nostra and hide and suppress, I think, is very unhealthy," he said. "Eventually it will all come out."

His comment infuriated the church hierarchy. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said that it was the "last straw".

Some of those on Mr Keating's 13-member National Review Board apparently also thought he had gone too far. "The majority of the board felt that his statements were inappropriate, that it might preclude us from being effective," said Pamela Hayes, a lawyer who is on the board.

Mr Keating is leaving just before the opening of an annual convention of Catholic bishops in St Louis on Thursday.

The panel of lay Catholics was formed by the bishops a year ago when the scandal was at its worst.

Among the board's missions is to check that all 195 dioceses in the United States are putting in place new provisions to ensure that abuse by members of the clergy brings punishment and is no longer covered up.

The Survivors' Network said: "We believe Keating and his colleagues have been too cautious in prodding bishops to reform. Keating's assessment - that some bishops continue stonewalling prosecutors, hiding evidence and obstructing justice - is widely shared by many Catholics in the pews."