Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Advisory Board Member Says Archdiocese Complies With Sex Abuse Policy

By FRED T. ISAF, Special Contributor | Published May 20, 2004

In the last month or so, several stories have appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Archdiocese of Atlanta’s response to the national sexual abuse scandal. Those stories spawned a recent editorial in that newspaper and several letters to the editor. You may have seen my name given as a member of the Advisory Board established in accordance with the “Updated Policy of the Archdiocese of Atlanta Concerning the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Individuals from Sexual Abuse by Church Personnel” which was published in The Georgia Bulletin in August 2003.

Those stories and letters reflect a lot of confusion and misinformation. I am offering my personal observation and clarification (in question-and-answer format) both to inform my fellow Catholics in this archdiocese and to dispel some of the misinformation that has recently abounded. You should know that this is not an official statement of the Advisory Board, and it is certainly not an official or unofficial response of the archdiocese.

1. If this is not an “official” response of the Advisory Board, why not? A: The policy established the Advisory Board as a “confidential consultative body.” Our job is to give advice and counsel to the Archbishop. We are neither a public relations group nor apologists for the Archbishop, and there is no place in the policy for the Advisory Board to make official responses to news reports or anything else.

2. Who makes up the Advisory Board? Why are you the only one whose name is public? A: The national policy says that the Advisory Board is to consist of at least five members, a majority of whom are lay Catholics who are not employees of the archdiocese. The policy also requires that at least one member have “particular expertise in the treatment of the sexual abuse of minors.” Our Advisory Board consists of six laypersons and, as required by the national policy, one priest. The Archbishop acquiesced to the request of the majority of the Advisory Board members who believed that the release of their names to the public might place the members of the Advisory Board in a position where their effectiveness could be hindered by pressure from accused persons, the media, advocacy groups, etc. My name was made public with my consent so that persons who wanted to contact the Advisory Board directly could do so.

3. I have heard that Sally Horan, a member of the Advisory Board, was dismissed from the Advisory Board because she “asked too many questions” and was “too vocal” about the archdiocese not doing enough to comply with the reforms. Is that true? A: No. It is difficult to respond to vague allegations such as these, which are pejorative in tone. While I do not think it is appropriate to comment specifically on the reasons Ms. Horan left the Advisory Board, I can say that it was certainly not because she “asked too many questions” or because she was “too vocal.”

4. Is it true that the archdiocese is out of compliance with the policy since Sally Horan left the Advisory Board? A: No. The archdiocese is not out of compliance with the policy. As I have mentioned, even after Ms. Horan’s departure there are six remaining members of the Advisory Board (one more than is required by the national policy), five of whom are lay persons. While Ms. Horan has “particular expertise in the treatment of sexual abuse of minors,” she was not the only member with that experience. Within the last few weeks, the Advisory Board again reviewed the expertise and credentials of the remaining members. We advised the Archbishop that there is a current member of the Advisory Board with the requisite expertise and we believe the Board, as it is currently constituted, meets the requirements of the policy.

5. What about Ann Price? I have heard that the primary reasons for her departure were that she was vocal about her concerns that the Archdiocese was not doing enough to comply with the reforms, and she wanted to put in a training program that was too long. It was also rumored that she was fired by the Advisory Board. Is this true? A: The vacancy at the head of the Office for the Protection of Children, which is a key position, is obviously an important issue, but I think that it would be improper to engage in a public exchange concerning a former employee over the reasons for her departure. I will say that Ms. Price was not fired by the Advisory Board. The Advisory Board acts only in an advisory capacity and does not have the power to hire or fire employees. The Advisory Board does advise the Archbishop on matters related to the policy including issues related to the response to victims and the training of priests and employees. These are matters of extreme importance to the Advisory Board (see question 7 below), and it is uncompromising in its expectation that the archdiocese develop effective programs based on Catholic moral values. The delay occasioned by the archbishop’s effort to avoid starting on the “wrong foot” with these programs has caused alarm to some, but I believe that it would be a monumental error to start this important effort with programs which neither the Archbishop nor the Advisory Board think have the right focus or basis—be they one hour, one day or one week long. The necessity and benefit of training is not at issue nor is the length of the program. The only issue is that programs be based on and express strong Catholic values and morality.

6. Is the Archbishop looking for replacements for Ms. Horan and Ms. Price? A: The replacement of Ms. Price is a very high priority for both the Archbishop and the Advisory Board. The Archbishop has announced that he has a national search underway.

Although not necessary for compliance with the national policy, the Archbishop has already indicated that he intends to appoint an additional member of the Board. He will choose someone who he feels brings additional insight, experience and judgment to the matters that are issues for the Advisory Board.

7. What about victim response? I have read comments criticizing the archdiocese’s efforts. A: The archdiocese is committed to providing strong, effective, and appropriate pastoral support for victims of sexual abuse. I can assure you that spiritual and pastoral care and support for victims of sexual abuse by archdiocesan personnel is of the utmost importance to the Archbishop and the Advisory Board. I know that there are those who complain that the archdiocese has not done enough in the past to provide this type of care, but I also know that there is a deliberate and conscientious effort on the part of the Archbishop to provide this care.

8. The impression I get from reports I have read is that instead of support and care, victims and other persons reporting abuse often feel as though the archdiocese is more concerned with defending itself against lawsuits than caring for them. A: The archdiocese must be ever ready to aid those who have suffered sexual abuse and it is essential that victims and persons reporting abuse receive the proper pastoral response. Certainly that is where the concern of the archdiocese lies. At the same time, there is a dilemma because while there have been tragic instances of sexual abuse in this diocese, we are also aware of cases of false allegations being made against priests for a variety of reasons. As Catholics we must concern ourselves with justice for the victims of crimes, but in doing so we cannot adopt a system that lacks another aspect of fundamental justice because it assumes that every allegation is true on its face. Justice demands that in addition to ministering to the victims of sexual abuse, appropriate consideration be given to the rights and reputation of persons who might be wrongfully accused.

The archdiocese’s policy is a combination of two approaches. The initial response to the victim and reporting person is pastoral support. At the same time, there is an immediate effort made to initiate a prompt and professional investigation of the facts. This process requires a delicate balance to get the facts without making a victim feel further victimized and to take prompt action without victimizing a person who may turn out to be innocent. Our archdiocese has established a policy for such investigations, which requires prompt internal review and immediate reporting to state authorities.

Thanks be to God that we have an outstanding Archbishop who is committed to doing the right thing. In my opinion, he has sincerely and earnestly taken the advice and counsel of the Advisory Board.


Fred T. Isaf attends St. Andrew Church, Roswell, and St. Joseph Maronite Church, Atlanta.