Archbishop Bans Victims' Group Meetings

By John Blake
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
December 27, 2003

The head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta has refused to allow a support group for victims of the church's sex abuse scandal to meet on church property.

Archbishop John Donoghue told the Voice of the Faithful's Atlanta chapter that they cannot meet nor advertise in the archdiocese's newspaper because he doesn't believe the group's goals are in line with church teachings.

The VOTF is a lay group formed in Boston last year to support victims of clergy abuse and press for structural changes in the Roman Catholic Church. The group has 25 members in its Atlanta chapter, said John Dearie, its chairperson.

"We are hurt and very disappointed that our bishop would prevent us from using the church, the same facilities we bought and paid for," said Dearie, a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Alpharetta.

Donoghue wrote a letter to the VOTF in October in which he said that "there is no need for an advocacy group" because the church has already established a support system for clergy abuse victims.

Donoghue said he opposes the group's meeting on church grounds because it may use the meetings to talk about issues Pope John Paul II has ordered Catholics to no longer discuss.

"I don't want them to get into stuff with other groups that are pushing for the ordination of women and married clergy," Donoghue said.

The Boston-based VOTF now has 30,000 members in 40 states, Dearie said. The group held its first public meeting locally in October at the Emory University Baptist Student Center. Its next meeting will take place on Jan. 12 at the same site.

The VOTF first met with Donoghue in October and then exchanged letters with him without coming to an agreement. Dearie said he doesn't understand why Donoghue is keeping the group off church property because they may talk about larger church issues.

"The archbishop knows as well as we do that Catholics talk about these things all the time," Dearie said. "It's kind of absurd to tell us we don't have a right to talk about these things."

Donoghue said he also objects to the VOTF's goal to press for "structural changes" in the church. But Dearie said those changes need to be addressed now to prevent future tragedies.

"The scandal reveals that there is an underlying problem that's allowed bishops to transfer known pedophiles from one diocese to another in secrecy," Dearie said.

Donoghue said he still is willing to listen to the VOTF's request but sounded doubtful about changing his mind. He plans to retire sometime next year.

"I don't want to commit my successor to something," he said. "I don't think that would be fair to anyone."


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