Just as he worked to rebuild historic structures and respect among people of different faiths, Cardinal William H. Keeler also worked to rebuild trust in the wake of the clergy child abuse crisis that broke in 2001.
Cardinal Keeler strengthened archdiocesan policies related to child and youth protection, requiring all employees and volunteers who work with children to undergo safe-environment training through a new program called “STAND.” Fingerprinting of employees became mandatory, and background checks were also required for both employees and volunteers.
In September 2002, Cardinal Keeler became one of only a handful of bishops in the nation to release the names of clergy – living and dead – who had been “credibly accused” of the sexual abuse of children. Fifty-seven names were published in the Catholic Review and made available to the secular press – a decision that was met with considerable consternation from some.
“He recognized that people had a right to know what happened, what was known and what was done,” said Daniel Medinger, who was editor/associate publisher of the Catholic Review at the time the names were printed. “He knew that there was only one way to do that, which was to tell the truth.”
Medinger called the cardinal’s decision to publish the names “incredibly brave” and “incredibly wise.”
“The problems now facing some other dioceses didn’t really happen here in the same way,” Medinger said, “and I think that’s because there wasn’t the perception of cover-up. Because of the cardinal’s openness and years of building trust within the media, he was able to accomplish his goal of getting the information out.”
Cardinal Keeler became the first cardinal in the nation to take the witness stand in a criminal trial related to the clergy sex abuse scandal when he testified for the defense in the attempted murder of Maurice J. Blackwell, a defrocked priest accused of sexually abusing Dontee D. Stokes. Stokes shot and wounded Blackwell, but a Baltimore City Circuit Court jury found Stokes not guilty in 2003.
Cardinal Keeler had first suspended Blackwell from ministry in 1993 when Stokes accused him of sexual abuse, but later reinstated Blackwell as pastor of St. Edward in Baltimore despite a recommendation to the contrary from a lay review board.
On the witness stand, the cardinal said he regretted his action in reinstating Blackwell.
“Given the same information we have now, I certainly would not do that again,” said the cardinal, who also apologized to Stokes on the witness stand. He had earlier met with Stokes privately and also shook his hand before and after testifying.
In 2004, the cardinal led a “day of atonement,” asking forgiveness for sins the church had committed against victims of clerical sex abuse.
This is an excerpt from the Catholic Review obituary on Cardinal Keeler by George P. Matysek Jr. For the complete article, click here.