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  Children's Facility Unfazed by Ex-Pries
He Works Next Door, Has History of Abuse

By Rob Nelson
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
February 21, 2003

The director of a Marrero facility for troubled children said Thursday he does not object to the fact that a Catholic priest recently removed from the ministry for sexually molesting a child two decades ago now works next door at a retirement center for priests.

Word that the former priest lives next to the Hope Haven Center was posted Wednesday on the Web site of the Louisiana chapter of SNAP, Survivors' Network of Those Abused by Priests.

After the posting, the group's Web site disappeared from the Internet on Thursday in what appears to be an internal conflict over the group's direction.

Robert Guasco, administrator of Hope Haven Center, said that until recently he was not aware John Sax lived next door as an administrator of St. John Vianney Villa. But he was confident that security policies at the psychiatric facility, which is also a program of the archdiocese, were sufficient to protect children there.

"Certainly, the protection of our children is paramount to us," he said. "I'm confident in the security precautions we take at all times."

Children receiving treatment at Hope Haven are constantly supervised and access to the facility is closely monitored, Guasco said.

Sax, once a prominent priest who helped draft the archdiocese's 1993 sex-abuse policy, admitted last year that he sexually abused a child during the early 1980s at St. Peter Catholic Church in Reserve.

Sax was removed from all public ministerial duties and has lived since in the St. John Vianney Villa in the 4700 block of Wichers Drive in Marrero, said the Rev. William Maestri, spokesman for the archdiocese. Six retired or convalescing priests live in the center, where Sax serves as "resident manager," Maestri said.

The center is a short distance from the back entrance to Hope Haven Center, a psychiatric treatment facility for youth, which faces the 1100 block of Barataria Boulevard.

Because no criminal proceedings were brought against Sax, there is no legal obligation to report his living arrangement to authorities or residents in the area, Maestri said.

Sax handles "general managerial duties" at St. John Vianney and assists residents with routine problems, Maestri said, adding that the post is not a "priestly or clerical assignment."

Maestri said medical professionals who examined Sax determined he would not pose "a risk or threat" to the community.

An angry essay sharply critical of Archbishop Alfred Hughes for the Sax assignment appeared on the local SNAP Web site for a time Wednesday.

By afternoon the Web site had been completely transformed into "The Smoot Report," a page devoted to clerical sexual abuse. It carried an additional angry essay on Hughes' service as an auxiliary bishop in Boston, with links to newspaper stories around the country.

In separate interviews, local SNAP co-founder Lyn Hill Hayward and a man identifying himself in several e-mail exchanges as Joe Smoot, the group's webmaster, described an internal falling-out over the group's direction.

The group hopes to nourish a working relationship with the archdiocese, Hayward said, and is considering inviting into the group a priest who was himself a sex abuse victim, she said. Smoot said he was strongly opposed to that.

Moreover, Hayward and other SNAP members did not want to publish Smoot's essays, and specifically found no cause for alarm about Sax's living arrangement, Hayward said. She said the group felt Sax was not a risk and had consulted Hope Haven for its view.

Smoot said he posted his views on the group's Web address, then took the organization's site down completely Thursday afternoon.

Hayward described the incident as an example of growing pains in a young organization, particularly one in which members feel so passionately about their cause.

She said the organization has severed its ties with Smoot, will rebuild a new Web page and produced a new e-mail address, LASnap@survivorsnetwork.org, to reach out to the public.

 
 

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