Published January 8, 2004
The Archdiocese of Atlanta is in full compliance, according to an audit by The Gavin Group, a national organization charged with evaluating the progress of Catholic dioceses across the nation in following the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002. In addition to the declaration of full compliance, the audit commends the Atlanta Archdiocese for its “communications policy that reflects a commitment to transparency and openness.”
“We are very pleased with the results of the audit,” said Archbishop John F. Donoghue.
“The results recognize what we have sought—to be open, fair, compassionate, and healing in dealing with reports of child sexual abuse. And we are grateful for the work of the Lay Advisory Board this past year that focused and solidified a position that has been building since 1990,” he added.
The archdiocese’s Lay Advisory Board established a policy in August 2003 that made it clear the diocese intends to provide a safe and secure environment for children and any vulnerable individual in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and will call for a sincere, honest, immediate investigation of any child sexual abuse charge, and will provide a strong pastoral response to any victim, accuser, and accused should a charge ever emerge. The Lay Advisory Board policy put the Atlanta Archdiocese in line with the national policy calling for “zero tolerance” of child sexual abuse.
But the archdiocese has been working for more than a decade to find a way to respond directly, responsibly, and compassionately to abuse charges. The first policy was developed in 1990, revised in 1994 and revised again in 2003. In addition, in 1992, the archdiocese instituted Project Aware to educate people about the signs of child sexual abuse. It was established by the late Archbishop James P. Lyke, OFM, who called for specific measures to combat child sexual abuse.
“Our intent has always been to respond in a Christ-like way in the midst of what we see as tragedy,” Archbishop Donoghue said.
“The Church’s first and primary mission is to preach the gospel and lead all people to an understanding of the message of Jesus. Sexual abuse in any form is totally contrary to that and so is not acceptable in any situation. But when accusations are made, we must locate the truth about them and minister healing to all involved,” he explained.
The Gavin Group’s declaration of full compliance “tells us our policy is right on target,” said Fred Isaf, a spokesperson for the Lay Advisory Board.
“And its commendation about open communication tells us we are operating with the kind of honesty that Christ calls us to,” he added.
Since the audit was completed Oct. 3, 2003, several allegations of sexual misconduct of minors have been brought to the archbishop’s attention. These allegations have been reported to the proper civil authorities and to the Lay Advisory Board.
“We have seen firsthand that our policies for reporting and handling allegations are effective,” said Archbishop Donoghue. “The process that is currently in place emphasizes the archdiocese’s intent to provide a safe environment for every child and vulnerable person.”
The Gavin auditors’ review of the archdiocese’s communications program, which included an examination of documents and interviews with archdiocesan employees, determined that “it is functioning in an outstanding manner,” the audit said. “It was found that the archbishop and his staff have an open stance with members of the news media … He is quick to respond in cases where accusations have surfaced and provided appropriate information within the bounds of confidentiality … He has afforded special attention to those parishes where priests have been removed. The archbishop has had his representative address parishioners of these parishes and meets with parish leaders and staff,” the commendation said.
In auditing the archdiocese—which encompasses 75 parishes, 20 missions, 17 elementary and secondary schools, 166 diocesan priests, and 367,0000 registered Catholics in 69 counties of northern Georgia—the Gavin Group reported that the archdiocese removed 15 members of the clergy from active ministry in the 12 years prior to June 2002. It noted that the archdiocese’s current policy provides for immediate reporting of any allegation to civil authority, has a procedure for advising victims of their rights, has a clear and well-publicized code of conduct for all church personnel, including priests and deacons, and has an excellent communications policy “reflecting the archbishop’s pledge to be open and transparent.”
The audit further found that the archdiocese has an active program to promote a “safe environment” for children and vulnerable persons, has complete background investigations on all members of clergy and is working on the same for all archdiocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors, had not transferred any priests or deacons who had credible allegations of sexual abuse against minors lodged against them, and has established screening techniques for the selection of ordination candidates. A recommendation from the Gavin Group was issued to ensure that all clergy, employees and volunteers in the archdiocese complete the safe environment training. The archdiocese implemented this recommendation by Dec. 1, 2003.
Gavin who is an experienced compliance auditor formerly with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), trained over 50 auditors to do on-site audits of Catholic dioceses across the nation. Auditors in the Atlanta Archdiocese interviewed numerous people, including the Victim Assistance Coordinator, Vicars General, the Chancellor, members of the Lay Advisory Board, selected parishioners, members of parish councils, PTA presidents, Canonist, Communications Director, Director of Vocations, members of clergy, selected law enforcement officials, and the archbishop.
“We constantly seek to do what Christ would do,” Archbishop Donoghue said. “It is not always easy and it is not always immediately apparent. But with prayer and Christ-like intent, we find our way there, step by step at times. That’s what we have done this past decade. And we will continue … always with prayer and Christ-like intent,” he said.