Snag in Atlanta Church Reforms
Women Who Held Posts Key to Compliance Say Their Criticism Got Them the Ax

By John Blake
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution [Atlanta GA]
April 6, 2004

Less than three months after satisfying national child sex abuse reforms, the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta is operating without two vital positions required by reform guidelines.

The archdiocese has refused to comment on why the women who held the positions ? one a volunteer ? were dismissed.

But the women say it was because they told church leaders that the archdiocese wasn't doing enough to comply with the reforms. One said she was concerned that victims were directed to call church officials instead of police to report allegations. Another said church leaders rebuffed her ideas for training priests.

The archdiocese does not "live up to the promises . . . or the spirit" of church reforms, said Ann Price, who was the coordinator of its sexual abuse victims assistance program.

Neither Archbishop John Donoghue nor his spokeswoman and vice chancellor, Kathi Stearns, would comment on the women's allegations. But Stearns said the archdiocese has instituted a national search for their replacements.

"It takes time to find qualified people, and we are committed to that process," she said.

Stearns confirmed that the archdiocese fired Price on Jan. 23, four-and-a-half months after Donoghue hired her. She also confirmed that the archdiocese discharged Sally Horan, a child sexual abuse specialist, from an unpaid position on the archbishop's abuse advisory board.

Kathleen McChesney, executive director of the church's National Office of Child and Youth Protection, said the coordinator and the child sex abuse specialist are not optional. Both positions are required by national guidelines established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and by the archdiocese's own policy, implemented Aug. 1, 2003.

But McChesney declined to declare the archdiocese out of compliance, saying she didn't "have all the facts." She also said her office only monitors compliance, it has no enforcement power. Its next progress report is due in February.

Following the 'norms'

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted "A Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" on June 14, 2002, in response to charges of abuse of minors by clergy. Six months later the bishops decreed "norms" ? or church laws ? for each diocese to follow in reporting cases of abuse, training personnel and counseling victims and their families.

The bishops were responding to a string of scandals that shook the Catholic Church in cities all over the United States. The Archdiocese of Atlanta reported action was taken against 13 of its clerics based on allegations from 25 minors during that period. It paid about $1.5 million in damages to victims.

Price was hired to meet the requirement that each diocese have "a competent person or persons to coordinate assistance for the immediate pastoral care" of people who claim to have been sexually abused as minors by church clergy, volunteers or employees.

Similarly, Horan was appointed to Donoghue's advisory board to fulfill a requirement that at least one board member have "particular expertise in the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors."

The bishops also initiated an audit process. The auditors visited Atlanta from Sept. 29 to Oct. 3, 2003. In their report, they pronounced the archdiocese "compliant with the provisions of the Charter."

Early concerns

Both Price and Horan said they had questions early on about the quality of victim assistance efforts.

Horan said her questions began in March 2003. She said that's when the archdiocese began developing a new policy to handle child sex abuse allegations. Horan said archdiocesan leaders wanted victims to call them, starting with the archbishop, to report incidents of abuse.

On Sept. 18, Horan said she was angered when she spotted an ad in the archdiocese's newspaper telling victims to call the archbishop's office.

Horan said she told church officials at least twice that alleged victims should also be instructed to call police or Price.

"If somebody robs your house, you don't call the archbishop," she said. "You call the police because it's a crime. They wanted to circumvent that. They wanted to decide if it's a crime themselves."

About a week after the auditing team concluded its visit in October, Horan said Stearns told her, without elaboration, that Donoghue no longer wanted her on the advisory board. Horan said she wasn't surprised by the decision. "I asked too many questions," she said. "I was too vocal."

But in November, a month after her removal, Horan said she complained that because her position had not been filled, the archdiocese was out of compliance. She said she complained to Sheila Horan ? no relation ? at the church's National Office of Child and Youth Protection in Washington.

Sheila Horan has not returned numerous calls to confirm whether she talked to Sally Horan in October. McChesney, who works with Sheila Horan in the two-person office, said she did not know whether Sally Horan had called.

Victims' spiritual advocate

Ann Price was hired in September 2003, a month before the scheduled visit by the auditors. She has a doctorate in psychology and had worked as a volunteer with the archdiocese's previous victim's assistance program, Project Aware.

Her job was to coordinate spiritual care for victims and their families and to assist in establishing "safe environment training." This refers to a code of conduct that is supposed to be taught to all church personnel who regularly work with youth.

In early October, Price said, Stearns gave her a letter from Donoghue saying that all archdiocese employees were supposed to get safe environment training within three months. Price was to develop the training program.

Price said she planned a six-hour workshop to include a speaker on child abuse symptoms, a session on victim's assistance and an art therapy presentation from a priest to show the effect of sex abuse on children through their drawings and photographs.

Price said she presented her plans to Stearns by the beginning of November, but Stearns told her about two weeks later that the advisory board had decided not to accept any of her recommendations. Instead, Price said she was told, the board wanted her to provide a list of therapists to whom victims could be referred.

"Basically the feedback was, 'We're not going to do any of this,' " Price said. "She [Stearns] told me that the board doesn't want to do this. A daylong workshop is too long for priests."

Price said she asked for an audience with the advisory board, but Stearns told her that the board didn't want to meet with her.

In another conversation, Price said Stearns admonished her for not telling archdiocesan leaders that Horan had called the National Office for Child and Youth Protection to complain about being dismissed.

"I didn't know about it until after the fact," Price said. "But that was Sally's prerogative."

On Jan. 6, the results of the national audit were released, and Atlanta was found to be in compliance.

On Jan. 23, Price said, she was fired by the head of the archdiocese's human resources department. She said she was told the advisory board had lost confidence in her.

"Victim's assistance is not a priority with them," Price said. "It's all about looking like you do the right thing."

Although Donoghue would not comment on the firings, in March he apparently wrote about the process of filling Price's and Horan's positions in a letter to John Dearie, a Catholic layperson involved in a nonsanctioned group that formed to support the victims of abuse. The group has complained on its Web site about the two women being dismissed.

"I will move, as my authority requires, to fill those positions of responsibility . . . according to my own judgement, which is the nature of my duty as a bishop of the Church, and as a father to both the priests and the laity entrusted to my care," Archbishop Donoghue said in the letter.

The archdiocese was faxed a copy of the letter, written on what appears to be official stationery, but did not respond to a request to confirm its authenticity.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.