Catholic Organization That Helped Create Policy on Sex Abuse by Clergy to Close

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times [Seattle WA]
Downloaded April 25, 2004

After helping hundreds of priests, nuns, ministers and sexual-abuse victims during its 19 years, a Seattle-area nonprofit counseling center that was one of the first of its kind will be holding its last hurrah tomorrow.

Therapy and Renewal Associates TARA was founded in 1985 under the auspices of then Seattle Roman Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen, and is perhaps best known to lay people for its work on the issue of sexual abuse by priests.

Experts and church officials gathered in 1986 at TARA's office in South Seattle for discussions that later led to the development of the Seattle Archdiocese's policy on sexual abuse by clergy one of the country's first. And its two co-directors, Sister Fran Ferder, a Franciscan nun and clinical psychologist, and the Rev. John Heagle, a diocesan priest and psychotherapist, are considered experts in sexual abuse by clergy.

"We're disappointed," said Ferder, who, along with other TARA supporters, will take part in a private closing celebration tomorrow in West Seattle. "We didn't have the funds or the time to find another site."

TARA is closing because its lease, whose terms were favorable, was not renewed by the Seattle Archdiocese, Heagle said. TARA's office was in a former convent adjacent to Our Lady of Lourdes parish in South Seattle.

The archdiocese informed Ferder and Heagle a year ago that it would need the space to accommodate the growing number of Vietnamese Catholics in the area.

The Rev. Anthony Ton, pastor to the more than 1,500 households that comprise the local Vietnamese Catholic Community, said they celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes twice on Sundays, in addition to about six other services at the nearby Vietnamese Catholic Center.

"Every Mass is standing-room crowd only," he said. "This is too small a place for us."

Other than the lease, TARA was independent of the Seattle Archdiocese. It was funded by grants, donations and fees for services.

In many ways, TARA was groundbreaking at the time of its founding.

Originally, Hunthausen envisioned it as a way of providing "ministry to ministers" with counseling and resources for Catholic priests, nuns, brothers and career lay ministers, Heagle said.

But soon after it opened, the first high-profile cases of child sexual abuse by priests began coming to light. Gilbert Gauthe, a former priest accused of molesting dozens of boys in Louisiana, was the first of several notorious cases that made news nationwide. Then the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a Roman Catholic priest and canon lawyer with the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., co-authored a report urging the nation's bishops to address the church's sexual-abuse problem.

The Seattle Archdiocese asked TARA to help develop tools to evaluate priests who had been accused and to provide counseling for victims.

In the late 1980s, the archdiocese's first meetings to discuss how to deal with sexual abuse by clergy were held at TARA, and drafts of policies attempting to deal with such abuses were developed there. Some of the provisions were adopted by the archdioceses of Seattle and Chicago, which are frequently cited as having come up with the first comprehensive sexual-abuse policies.

Both Ferder and Heagle also have served as expert witnesses for victims of sexual abuse by priests in criminal and civil cases across the country.

"We've been accused by some church officials of crossing the line between providing therapy to victims to becoming advocates for victims," said Ferder an accusation she doesn't deny.

Ferder and Heagle also have drawn enmity from some Catholics and admiration from others for their stances on the church's teachings on sexuality. In their most recent book, "Tender Fires: The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality," for example, they advocate for the church to regard reverence in relationships, rather than sexual abstinence, as the hallmark of the highest holiness and healthiness.

Over the years, TARA has served people from different faith traditions and those not involved in ministry, as well as many clergy in the Seattle Archdiocese.

Ferder estimates that at least half the priests in the Seattle Archdiocese have consulted with TARA on matters ranging from personal growth to ministry issues in their parishes.

"I think (that) along with many others in the archdiocese, the archbishop expressed his gratitude to Father John and Sister Fran for their ministry over the years and wishes them the very best in the future," said Seattle Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni.

For the next year, Ferder and Heagle plan to spend one week a month in Seattle seeing their clients. They also plan to continue writing, and speaking and teaching across the country.

"We're grateful we've had the opportunity to share in the journeys of so many people in the archdiocese for the past 20 years," Ferder said.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or


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